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Herbal remedies may cause harm


Herbal remedies, most often used without any prescription, are a multi-billion dollar business.

The new study:
A University of Adelaide forensic pathologist has sounded a worldwide warning on the potential lethal dangers of herbal medicines. The study by Professor Roger Byard published in the US-based Journal of Forensic Sciences outlines the highly toxic nature of many herbal substances, which a large percentage of users worldwide mistakenly believe are safe.

"Herbal medicines are frequently mixed with standard drugs, presumably to make them more effective,"  Prof Byard said."This can also have devastating results.''

"There’s a false perception that herbal remedies are safer than manufactured medicines, when in fact, many contain potentially lethal concentrations of arsenic, mercury and lead."

"These substances may cause serious illnesses, exacerbate pre-existing health problems or result in death, particularly if taken in excess or injected rather than ingested," he said in a statement released by the university.

Byard said there could also be fatal consequences when some herbal medicines interact with prescription drugs.

“As access to such products is largely unrestricted and many people do not tell their doctor they are taking herbal medicines for fear of ridicule, their contribution to death may not be fully appreciated during a standard autopsy.”

An analysis of 251 Asian herbal products found at stores in the United States identified arsenic in 36 of the products, mercury in 35 and lead in 24.

In one documented case, a five-year-old boy who had ingested 63 grams of “Tibetan herbal vitamins” over a period of four years was diagnosed with lead poisoning.

Another case involved a young boy with cancer of the retina whose parents resorted to a traditional Indian remedy that caused arsenic poisoning.

Source: Adapted from University of Adelaide

The new study

Roger W. Byard, A review of the potential forensic significance of traditional herbal medicines,  J. Forensic Sci.,  55/1 (2010) 89-92. DOI: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2009.01252.x

Studies related to elemental speciation in herbal medicines

S.X. Li, F.Y. Zheng, Speciation analysis, Bioavailability and RiskAssessment of Copper Complexes in Phytomedicine using Flame Atomic Absorption Spectrometry, Planta Med., 74 (2008) 1302-1307. DOI: 10.1055/s-2008-1081294

S. Arpadjan, G. Celik, S. Taskesen, S. Gücer, Arsenic, cadmium and lead in medicinal herbs and their fractionation, Food Chem. Toxicol., 46/8 (2008) 2871-2875. DOI: 10.1016/j.fct.2008.05.027

Günther Weber, Pawel Konieczynski, Speciation of Mg, Mn and Zn in extracts of medicinal plants, Anal. Bioanal. Chem., 375/8 (2003) 1067-1073. DOI: 10.1007/s00216-002-1706-z

Xiao-jia Cai, Peter C. Uden, James J. Sullivan, Bruce D. Quimby, Eric Block, Headspace gas chromatography with atomic emission and mass selective detection for the determination of oreganoselenium compounds in Elephant garlic, Anal. Proc., 31/11 (1994) 325-327. DOI: 10.1039/AI9943100325

Studies related to metallic contamination in herbal medicines

Henok Baye, Ariaya Hymete, Lead and cadmium accumulation in medicinal plants collected from environmentally different sites, Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol., 84/2 (2010) 197-201. DOI: 10.1007/s00128-009-9916-0

Xu-dong Yuan, Koh Hwee Ling, Chui Wai Keung, The analysis of heavy metals in Chinese herbal medicine by flow injection-mercury hydride system and graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry, Phytochem. Anal., 20/4 (2009) 293.297. DOI: 10.1002/pca.1126

E.M.M. Flores, A.P.F. Saidelles, J.P.C. Mattos, E.I. Muller, J.S.F. Perreiro, J.N.G. Paniz, V.L. Dressler, Determination  of Cd and Pb in Medicinal Plants using Solid Sampling Flame Atomic Absorption  Spectrometry,  Int. J. Environ. Anal. Chem., 89/2 (2009) 129-140. DOI: 10.1080/03067310802578945

Y.C. Wong, D.W.M. Sin, Y.C. Yip, L. Valiente, A. Toervenyi, J. Wang, G. Labarraque, P. Gupta, D. Soni, Surmadi, E. Hwang, C. Yafa, O. Cankur, E. Uysal, G. Turk, R. Huertas, International comparison of the determination of cadmium and lead in herbs: the CCQM pilot study CCQM-P97, Accred. Qual. Assur., 14/3 (2009) 151-158. DOI: 10.1007/s00769-009-0491-1

F.V. Sussa, P.S.C. Silva, S.R. Damatto, D.I.T. Fávaro, B.P. Mazzilli, Radioactive and stable elements' concentration in medicinal plants from Brazil, J. Radioanal. Nucl. Chem., 281/2 (2009) 165-170. DOI: 10.1007/s10967-009-0126-3

  H.H. Ang, Lead contamination in Eugenia dyeriana herbal preparations from different commercial sources in Malaysia, Food Chem. Toxicol., 46/6 (2008) 1969-1975. DOI: 10.1016/j.fct.2008.01.037

Mehmet Musa Özcan, Ahmet Ünver, Tolga Ucar, Derya Arslan, Mineral content of some herbs and herbal teas by infusion and decoction, Food Chem., 106/3 (2008) 1120-1127. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2007.07.042

Robert B. Saper, Russell S. Philipps, Anusha Sehgal, Nasia Khouri, Roger B. Davis, Janet Paquin, Venkatesh Thuppil, Stefanos N. Kales, Lead, Mercury, and Arsenic in US- and Indian-Manufactured Ayurvedic Medicinies sold via the Internet,  J. Am. Med. Assoc., 300/8 (2008) 915-923. DOI: 10.1001/jama.300.8.915

R.A. Street, M.G. Kulkarni, W.A. Stirk, C. Southway, J. Van Staden, Variation in heavy metals and microelements in South African medicinal  plants obtained from street markets, Food Addit. Contam., 25/8 (2008) 953-960. DOI: 10.1080/02652030801993605

Z. Lamari, S. Landsberger, J. Braisted, G. Naggache, R. Larbi, Trace element contents in medicinal plants from Algeria, J. Radioanal. Nucl. Chem., 276/1 (2008) 95-99. DOI: 10.1007/s10967-007-0415-7

Jia-lun Wu, Yao-hua Zou, Xiu-ping Zhan, Shi-fei Chen, Guang-zhao Lu, Fu-gen Lai, Survey of Heavy Metal Pollution in Chinese Crude Drugs and their  Cultivated Soils, Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol., 81/6 (2008) 571-573. DOI: 10.1007/s00128-007-9170-2

M.R. Gomez, S. Cerutti, L.L. Sombra, M,F. Silva, L.D. Martínez, Determination of heavy metals for the quality control in Argentinian herbal medicines by ETAAS and ICP-OES,  Food Chem. Toxicol., 45/6 (2007) 1060-1064. DOI: 10.1016/j.fct.2006.12.013

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last time modified: May 20, 2024

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