Beware of Aristolochic Acid from Herbal Remedies

You might think that if a remedy is natural, it is also safe. According to the latest findings of researchers, aristolochic acid can lead to kidney disease and even cancer. This kind of acid has been commonly used in case of the Chinese medicine. It is said to be effective against gout, inflammation, and arthritis.

Beware of Aristolochic Acid from Herbal Remedies


Back in 2001, the FDA issued a letter to healthcare professionals and consumers expressing its concerns regarding the use of the ingredient. Back then it was believed to be linked to nephropathy, which is an illness of the kidneys.

The Link to Cancer

A few days ago the findings of a new study have been released. 26 people took part in the research: 19 of them had urinary tract cancer and they were taking medication which came with this ingredient and 7 other participants who were exposed to it.

Whole-Exome Sequencing

The study featured whole-exome sequencing. This means that the researchers study the human genome which can show mutations that can be linked to cancer. This way the researchers had the possibility to find a direct link to aritolochic acid.


As surprising as this may sound, the researchers found over 700 mutations in the tumors of the people who were exposed to the acid. On the other hand, they found only 91 mutations in the group that wasn’t exposed to the acid. The specialists claim that the number of mutations that they have found is larger than the number of mutations in case of lung cancer caused by smoking or melanomas which are the result of ultraviolet radiation.


The studies conducted in the field show that aristolochic acid can be linked to urinary bladder cancer, renal cancer, kidney disease and  urinary tract cancer. Although the results of the studies are more and more concerning, the acid is still used in case of medication addressing acne, eczema, arthritis, liver symptoms, and chronic pain.

Other Scary Facts

The researchers also noticed that the people who took medication which contained the acid progressed faster into end stage kidney disease. In normal cases renal disease can be managed by dialyses, and kidney transplant. However, in case of the exposed people these were not an option. Sadly, for those patients there is no known treatment that would help them or delay the onset of the symptoms.

The only solution is to implement more rigorous regulations for the medication that contains the acid.