This TCM Ingredient Has Been Linked To Liver Cancer
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Are you a  fan of Traditional Chinese Medicine remedies? According to a recent journal report, there is a link between some TCM herbs and liver cancer in Asia. The report in the Science Translational Medicine journal said consuming chemicals called aristolochic acids (AA), which are derived from the woody vines of the Aristolochia plant family, has been strongly linked to liver cancer. 

These acids are found in some TCM remedies given to new mothers, to aid in healing after childbirth and prevent parasites.  Liver tumours in Taiwan, China, Vietnam and other South-east Asian countries were found to be “likely due to contact with the chemicals” in AA. 

In Singapore, according to a Health Sciences Authority (HSA) spokesperson says AA have been controlled under the Poisons Act since 2004, so herbs sold in  Singapore are not allowed to contain aristolochic acids and their salts; this measure only affected a relatively small group of products in the local market.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has reviewed previous reports in the usage of AA in TCM, and implemented control measures in 2000.  According to a Health Sciences Authority (HSA) spokesperson, these include: 

  • Disallowing aristolochia herbs in non-Chinese Proprietary Medicines (CPM) sold to the general public
  • Additional labelling of CPM products containing aristolochia herbs to warn consumers against long term and/or inappropriate use
  • Record keeping by importers and wholesalers of aristolochia herbs. The MOH has been continuously monitoring the local and overseas situations closely.

While Taiwan banned some herbal preparations using these plants in 2003, there is no outright ban in China or Taiwan on AA – so it’s best to be cautious when purchasing TCM herbs when overseas. 

For the full report from MOH and HSA on  aristolochia  acids, click here

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