Hazards in Chinese therapies uncovered

Hazards in Chinese therapies uncovered

A host of potential toxins, allergens and traces of endangered animals showed up in DNA sequencing tests on 15 Chinese traditional medicines, researchers said on Thursday.

Such therapies have been used in China for more than 3,000 years, but have risen in popularity outside Asia in recent decades and now amount to a global industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year, according to the study in PLoS Genetics.

Despite their popularity, little scientific evidence exists to prove the benefits of Chinese traditional medicines (TCMs), and a growing body of research has begun to point to their potential dangers.

The samples analysed for this study included herbal teas, capsules, powders and flakes that were seized by Australian border officials and were subsequently tested by scientists at Australia’s Murdoch University.

Plant agents suspected of causing urinary tract and kidney cancer such as Aristolochic acid, as well as the potentially poisonous herb ephedra were among the dangerous elements found.

Some of the 68 different plant families that were detected in the 15 samples can be toxic if taken in the wrong doses, but the packaging did not list the concentrations of the elements inside.

“A product labeled as 100 per cent Saiga antelope contained considerable quantities of goat and sheep DNA,” said lead researcher Michael Bunce, a Murdoch University Australian Research Council Future Fellow.

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