Followup on herbal medicine in the U.K.

Earlier this week, I commented on how traditional Chinese herbal medicines in the U.K. had been found to be adulterated with dangerous and banned drugs, such as fenfluramine.

I've become aware of a link that leads to streaming audio of the original BBC Radio Live Five report on this story, which gives a much more detailed account. My main quibble is that they treat the claims of the herbalists interviewed about the efficacy of their herbs with a bit more credulity than they should have.

Also, for all you alties out there concerned about mercury poisoning causing a wide variety of diseases, consider this warning: There are often high levels of arsenic and mercury Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines:
The Agency first became aware of Fufang Luhui Jiaonang back in July 2004, when it warned consumers that it had been recalled from 35 outlets across the UK after being found to contain around 11% mercury.

Dr. Linda Anderson from the MHRA said: “The toxic effects of mercuric salts such as those found in the products tested are well known. The levels found could initially cause nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache and lead to serious damage to the kidneys and the nervous system. Any pregnant woman taking the products would be at risk of miscarriage and possible damage to the unborn foetus.”
11% mercury by weight! Holy crap! I wonder what Boyd Haley would have to say about this? Alties get all upset about miniscule amounts of mercury that might--might--leech from dental amalgams and by brief exposures to mercury in the form of vaccinations, but I have yet to see them express much concern about this potential source of mercury, which could be large in someone taking these herbal medications on a daily basis.

But that's not all. Besides fenfluramine, arsenic, and mercury, the British government also warns about other potentially dangerous substances found in traditional Chinese medications:
Other ingredients found to be illegally included in TCMs in recent months have included: the banned ingredient Aristolochia, associated with kidney failure and cancer; prescription only ingredients glibenclamide (used in the treatment of diabetes; improper use can be fatal) and corticosteroids (found in 'herbal' skin creams). The TCMs involved have been in a number of forms, including pills and capsules.

Sir Alasdair Breckenridge, Chair of the MHRA, said:

"We recognise that many consumers value traditional Chinese medicines but they should be aware that we continue to find some products which are manufactured to low quality standards and which contain potentially harmful substances.
I'm going to have to look into what regulations cover these sorts of medications in the U.S. I know that the FDA has in the past banned the import of certain brands of ginseng and ginseng powder because of contamination with pesticides. (A couple of years back I got into a little dustup with one guy selling this stuff from Canada at something like $300 for a 20 g tin.)

So, fans of Chinese medicine. Be very careful where you get your herbs from.

That's all for today. The Michigan-Ohio State game is going to start soon, and I plan on watching it.


  1. If you've seen a certain berzerko mercury fanatic in action you've seen him say that "since they started using vaccines with thimeosal in China they've suffered a massive epidemic of autism"

    Of course, there is no proof of this ever having happened at all, he just twists a some unrelated statements and adds the "mercury" and "vaccines" part from his own fevered brain...

    The thing is... whatever mercury is in those vaccines is nothing compared to the mercury that they've been using in their traditional medicines. Ayurvedic medicine from India has mercury in it too, and that mercury laden medicine has been sold in Canada in ethnic markets, I think, but maybe in "health food stores", too. It's been in the news there. (Then there is skin lightening cream sold in Mexico, at least, maybe elsewhere, it's got a lot of mercury in it.)

    Add to this the fact that the red paste ink that all Chinese people use and have used as their "signature" and that people see on Chinese art, the "chop" mark... is made from mercury. I have several containers of the stuff.

    It's possible that everyone in China has a tin of this mercury paste in his or her desk. I don't know how it is now, but once upon a time, everyone used it every day.

    But that mercury exposure doesn't count, only vaccines count as a cause of an "epidemic" of autism...


    I just found out I can buy mercurochrome (not merthiolate) from Australia and have it sent to me. I'm thinking about it. :-) It's 25.00 or so including the shipping for a little bottle.

  2. I wrote about safi here.

  3. "Holy crap!" is right! Wow.


  4. FDA? Where are you when we need you?

  5. Britain's equivalent of the ID debate is alternative medicine and sadly Blair's approach to the latter is even worse than Bush's approach to the former. You can now get a wide range of "complementary" treatments on the NHS, depending on the budget and willingness of the local trust to engage in quackery. Many are resisting, but Blair is pushing it hard in the name of "patient choice".

  6. Actually, now I think about it, Blair's equally bad on creationism, it's just that we don't have the same church/state issues in Britain. As you may or may not know, Blair set up a scheme of "city academies", whereby if private sector sponsors stump up a bit of the cash for a (state) school, they get significant control over the curriculum and other management issues. Unsurprisingly, Britain's relatively small band of fundamentalists are in hog heaven over this and have sponsored several schools, teaching Biblical creationism as fact and calling evolution a "faith position" among other things. Asked in parliament if he was happy with this state of affairs, Blair said: "I am very happy. It would be very unfortunate if concerns about that issue were seen to remove the very strong incentive to ensure that we get as diverse an education system as we properly can."

    So for a small amount of capital (only £2m per school), Blair is willing to throw Britain's educational standards down the toilet. What a whore.


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