Beware of traditional Chinese meds: Tests reveal nasty stuff in them

Another HUGE black eye for herbal meds. A widely distributed news story about how TCM products contain potentially harmful and banned substances: Traditional Chinese medicines under scrutiny

DNA analysis can identify illegal or unsafe ingredients in traditional Chinese medicines, according to new research.

An Australian-led group of scientists found traces of endangered species, as well as potential toxins and allergens in traditional Chinese medicines that were confiscated from overseas travellers.

In this study, scientists assessed 15 samples of traditional Chinese medicines seized by Australian customs. They extracted DNA from the tablets, powders and herbal teas. Then they used a technique called ‘second generation DNA sequencing’ to identify the plant and animal species they contained.

Their study identified the presence of vulnerable and endangered species such as the Asiatic black bear and the saiga antelope. The trade of these species is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.


Tip: @edzardernst

The inquiry also revealed issues with misleading and poor labelling. Coverage was WIDE on this issue appearing in both Science: Dangers of Chinese Medicine Brought to Light by DNA Studies and Nature: Screen uncovers hidden ingredients of Chinese medicine newsbriefs.

Nature notes:

“There’s absolutely no honesty in the labelling of these products. What they declare is completely at odds with what’s in there,” says Mike Bunce, a geneticist at Murdoch University near Perth, Australia, who led the study. The results are published today in PLoS Genetics.

Indeed. Without quality assurance or testing you are risking possibly an allergic reaction which could be severe. But also noteworthy is the finding of banned substances. And, important to note… this test was only on 15 traditional Chinese medicine preparations! The sample size was small. That suggests this is a big problem.

Bottom line: These products often don’t work and the fact that they are unregulated makes them harmful in more ways than one.

Also: DNA Testing Finds Allergens, Toxins in Traditional Chinese Medicines

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  2 comments for “Beware of traditional Chinese meds: Tests reveal nasty stuff in them

  1. twh
    April 13, 2012 at 10:02 PM

    Considering previous products from China containing lead and cadmium (toys and children’s jewelry no less), is this really that shocking? My family won’t even buy dog treats from China any more.

    • April 14, 2012 at 10:34 AM

      I don’t think the products even have to come from China. But good point. No matter where herbals come from – even if they are made locally – you DON’T know what’s in them. There is no quality control unless it’s a major manufacturer. Even then, I’m a bit concerned. The lack of regulation is worrisome.

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