A recent report about bits of black bear found in some Chinese medicines has brought to the fore, the issue of adulteration in medicine.
In particular it raises the issue of unregulated use of possibly toxic ingredients in so-called herbal medicines.
Toxic ingredients in Chinese medications
Recently the ingredients of 15 Chinese traditional medicines that were seized by customs officials were analyzed. As many as ¾ of the products were found to contain undeclared ingredients including animal and plant products. The Chinese traditional medicine products examined included powders, herbal teas, capsules and flakes.
One of the ingredients detected was found to be the Asiatic black bear, a highly endangered species.
Other ingredients from animal such as domestic cows, water buffalo and certain deer species were also identified in the DNA testing of the products.
Another problem was that some plant ingredients found in the medicines are common allergens that could cause allergic reactions in users.
For instance ingredients such as nuts and soy could be highly allergenic and could cause serious problems for those who are allergic. These were also not listed and traces were still found by researchers.
All these ingredients were not listed as being among the ingredients, which can be misleading and even dangerous to the consumer.
According to research fellow and geneticist at Murdoch University Dr Bruce, this doesn’t give people any idea what exactly they are consuming.
Other problems with unregulated herbal medications
This report highlights problems that are often encountered with so-called herbal medications. We tend to trust the ‘herbal’ tag in spite of the fact that it can be used indiscriminately by manufacturers and marketers.
Some so-called herbal medicines can contain herbs that could actually be poisonous. The plant based ingredient called aristolochic acid for instance is known to cause kidney damage and even cancer.
Another ingredient ephedra is known to be potentially poisonous (and banned in many places) and this is also sometimes found to be present in herbal concoctions.
According to experts, mislabeling of herbal and Chinese medicines is often done to mislead customers or to circumvent the scrutiny of the authorities as well as buyers. The mislabeling could be unwitting at times, but often using low quality ingredients could be a way to lower manufacturing costs.
All of this reinforces the need for better regulation and greater transparency of herbal therapies. This helps people get the benefit of alternative and complementary therapies in a safe and informed manner.