Herbal health remedies have been a tradition around the world that began millennia ago for millions of people. Most believe these to be safe because of the length of time they have been used, however, researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and Stony Brook University are raising awareness that longterm use is no guarantee of their safety. Dr. Donald Marcus, professor emeritus of medicine and immunology at Baylor and Dr. Arthur Grollman, professor of pharmacological sciences at Stony Brook University reveal scientific evidence that the plant Aristolochia can cause aristolochic acid nephropathy (AAN). Those with this condition experience interstitial nephritis, renal failure and cancers of the urinary track.
Between 1997 and 2003, 8 million people in Taiwan were exposed to herbals containing Aristolochia. Studies show that tens of millions of people with renal failure and cancer in Taiwan and China are at risk of AAN. Consuming Aristolochia can lead to the formation of complexes between aristolactam, a compound in Aristolachia, and DNA in renal tissues. In turn, these can lead to mutations in the TP53 tumor suppressor gene and initiate the process toward kidney cancer.
Other herbals and traditional medicines are responsible for severe adverse events in Africa and Asia but data is lacking. Aristolochia has been used for more than 2000 years but “the intrinsic toxicities were not recognized”.
Almost all carcinogens and many toxins require a long period of time before symptoms appear, making it difficult for a professional to identify a particular compound as the cause of an illness.
The history of Aristolachia indicates that other herbs, also used for a long time, may also have toxic and/or carcinogenic compounds that can cause subsequent health problems for humans.
Marcus and Grollman disagree with the World Health Organization’s endorsement of the use of traditional herbal remedies on the premise that traditional medicine is of proven quality, without mentioning the lack of scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of herbal remedies or their hazards. Their primary concern is the prevention of toxicities associated with herbal medicine and not a categorical rejection of traditional healing practices.
Everyone should take actions that will evaluate both long and short term safety as well as the efficacy of botanical products in widespread use. If you question an herbal you are currently taking, do some research on the product to insure you are taking something that will help you and not compromise your health. It is always very important not to selfmedicate and in being absolutely certain to consult your naturopathic physician.
–Dr Fredda Branyon