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FDA: Chinese Herb Causes Kidney Failure, Cancer

WebMD Health News

April 16, 2001 --The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning for consumers to stop using dietary products that contain aristolochic acid, found primarily in a Chinese herb called Aristolochia fangchi. Consumption of products containing the botanical ingredient has been associated with permanent kidney damage; the product has also been linked to certain types of cancer, most often occurring in the urinary tract.

So far, the ingredient has been found in at least 16 products sold in the U.S., either as a single-ingredient product or as part of a supplement mixture. The products may list the ingredients "aristolochia," "bragantia," or "asarum" on the label.

Complicating the matter, aristolochia is sometimes substituted for other botanicals -- including Stephania tetrandra, Clemantis armandii, and akebia extract.

The products affected by the FDA alert include:

  • Rheumixx
  • BioSlim Doctor's Natural Weight Loss System Slim Tone Formula
  • Prostatin
  • Fang Ji Stephania
  • Mu Tong Clematis armandi
  • Temple of Heaven Chinese Herbs Radix aristolochiae
  • Meridian Circulation
  • Qualiherb Chinese Herbal Formulas Dianthus Formulas Ba Zheng San
  • Clematis and Carthamus Formula 21280
  • Virginia Snake Root Cut Aristolochiaserpentaria
  • Green Kingdom Akebia Extract
  • Green Kingdom Stephania Extract
  • Neo Concept Aller Relief
  • Mu Tong Clematis armandi
  • Fang Ji Stephania
  • Stephania tetrandra roots, whole

The FDA has issued warning labels and requests for recalls to the various manufacturers or distributors involved.

The trouble for aristolochic acid started after at least 100 individuals -- all clients of one diet clinic in Belgium -- developed end-stage kidney failure; additionally, a number of them were found to have some kind of kidney or bladder cancer. The Belgian Ministry of Health traced the problem to a prescription weight-loss capsule containing aristolochic acid (which had been accidentally added to the mixture in place of another herb).

Kidney failure began anywhere from three months to seven years after the patients had stopped taking the weight-loss capsules. Testing of 39 samples of kidney tissue showed that bits of genetic material from the herb had attached to the patients' chromosomes. Researchers think the material may turn on cancer genes or turn off genes that protect against cancer -- or both.

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