5 November 2010
It appears Chinese herbalists may be putting their own health at risk while trying to improve the health of their patients.
Taiwanese researchers have found occupational exposure to, and consumption of, herbal products containing aristolochic acids (ALAs) increased the risk of kidney failure among herbalists (Occup Environ Med 2010 Oct 8, online).
A case-control study of 6538 Chinese herbalists revealed they had almost a 3.5 times greater risk of kidney failure, compared with matched controls, if manufacturing and selling ALAs. If they also frequently or occasionally consumed these products, their risk was more than 5 times greater.
Most cases have been linked to the herb fangji, which has previously been implicated in cases of kidney failure and urothelial carcinoma (cancer of the urinary system). Other similar herbs may also be sources of ALAs, the authors warned.
The herbalists, even if not actually consuming the products, probably swallowed herbal dust or ate contaminated food, the authors said.
In Chinese medicine, fangji is used as a diuretic and laxative and so might also be used for slimming, they explained. As Chinese herbs are commonly used by pregnant women, children and elderly patients, the authors said public education campaigns about the potential risks are warranted.
Last Reviewed: 05 November 2010