Herbal remedies pose a global hazard and the primary focus lies on preventing toxicities associated with herbal medicine than eliminating it completely from the system of practice, said researchers.
Scientists from the Baylor College of Medicine and Stony Brook University warned that herbal remedies can be a threat to human lives when they are taken for a long time as there is no guarantee for their safety.
‘Herbal remedies have carcinogenic and toxic substances, which potentially increase the risk for many cancers and other health problems in the long haul.’
They said that there were several scientific evidence relating to health problems caused by the use of an herbal remedy called Aristolochia. Aristolochia can cause aristolochic acid nephropathy (AAN), which increases the risk of interstitial nephritis, renal failure and cancers of the urinary track.
The plant is commonly used in Taiwan and between 1997 and 2003, 8 million were exposed to this herbal remedy; wherein they are now at risk of developing AAN. Though the use of Aristolochia has been dated back to millions of years, its effects were not recognized until a long-term study on AAN revealed its association with the herb.
Aristolochia complexes are formed between aristolactam, a compound in Aristolochia and DNA in renal tissues when the herb is taken for a long-term. These compounds, in turn, lead to mutations in a gene called as TP53, responsible for suppressing tumors. TP53 genetic mutations initiate the process to kidney cancer, which, in turn, lead to the development of bladder and liver cancer.
Therefore, researchers suggest that all carcinogens and toxins take a longer time to show specific symptoms and unless the patient is observed for a longer period, it may be difficult to identify the health problems accurately.
"The history of Aristolochia indicates that other herbs that have been used for a long time may also have toxic and/or carcinogenic compounds," said the authors. "It is prudent to assume that many herbs may contain toxic or carcinogenic substances that can cause subsequent health problems for humans."
Authors report that they are not against the use of traditional medicines and only want to shed light on the possible health concerns associated with these herbs, which are not scientifically proven.