Common Herbal Supplement Linked to Cancer

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Many people turn to herbal supplements to improve their health. In China, belief in traditional medicine is so strong that pharmacies peddle unprocessed herbs alongside modern pharmaceuticals. But an ingredient found in certain supplements may be as cancerous as smoking, two new studies have found.


The ingredient in question is aristolochic acid, a compound found in leafy, flowery vines called Aristolochia, or birthwort. For centuries, birthwort has been used in traditional medicine in China (and ancient Greece before that) to treat arthritis and ease childbirth, among other conditions. (The flower is shaped like a uterus.) Today aristolochic acid—pronounced "a-ris-to-LOW-kick”—is found in supplements for weight loss, menstrual symptoms, and rheumatism. It’s widely used in Asia, where it’s added to medicinal wine, ointments, and diet pills. One study found that between 1997 and 2003, fully one-third of Taiwanese were prescribed birthwort supplements by a Chinese medicine practitioner.

Warnings about the herb first emerged in the early 1990s, when a scandal involving dozens of women in Belgium who had inadvertently taken it for weight loss surfaced. As reported in The Lancet in 1993, several of the patients developed severe kidney failure.

Written By: Mara Hvistendahl
continue to source article at news.sciencemag.org

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  1. For centuries, birthwort has been used in traditional medicine in China (and ancient Greece before that) to treat arthritis and ease childbirth, among other conditions. (The flower is shaped like a uterus.)

    If this is a case of attempting to invoke sympathetic magic, then I am disappointed. Some of the “logic” people follow is just too depressingly bad…

    • In reply to #1 by Zeuglodon:

      For centuries, birthwort has been used in traditional medicine in China (and ancient Greece before that) to treat arthritis and ease childbirth, among other conditions. (The flower is shaped like a uterus.)

      If this is a case of attempting to invoke sympathetic magic, then I am disappointed. Some of…

      Much of metaphysics is based upon making an analogy. Seeing a circle in one’s tea leaves means that someone might propose to you – with a ring. A dream with lots of ants crawling could mean some sort of disease like Cancer, or another infection is possibly in your body. Your car gets a flat tire and somehow your life has had a blow out and now your have trouble moving forward. You are having stomach problems and somehow you’re having trouble “stomaching” some sort of news or information is upsetting to you.Your cluttered basement is a sign that your subconsciously holding onto psychological garbage and junk that is cluttering your life. Your past is holding you back. Your cluttered attic is a sign that current situations are preventing you from dreams coming into fruition. You can’t build your dream life with old wood…… I recall an interview between professor Dawkins and Chopra. Chopra basically admitted that his ramblings on Quantum Physics are analogies. The world is one giant Rorschach test to these people.They see a butterfly and it is expected that something will be transformed into something new.

      See something shaped like a uterus; surely it is good for childbirth.
      See a strong horn on a rhino; surely it is good for virility.
      Aquamarine “A stone of courage and serenity…Clear light blue, blue-green, this lovely and gentle gem evokes the sea in both its name and its color. The ancients saw this as a stone of courage and felt that carrying it would help them return safe and prosperous from all sea voyages. “

      • In reply to #2 by QuestioningKat:

        In reply to #1 by Zeuglodon:

        For centuries, birthwort has been used in traditional medicine in China (and ancient Greece before that) to treat arthritis and ease childbirth, among other conditions. (The flower is shaped like a uterus.)

        If this is a case of attempting to invoke sympathetic magic, t…

        Yes, it was formulated as the ‘Doctrine of Signatures’, by herbalists from about the time of Dioscorides.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_signatures

        Fortunately, it also worked the other way, in that obvious poisons they took pains to find features of which turned out to be a warning. By such slow feedback loops did medicine advance back then. The use of Willow (Salix) bark to relieve headaches (Salycylic acid) gave us Aspirin and I wonder what previous tortuous justification they found for that!

  2. It’s a lovely flower. If you haven’t already you should do an image search.

    —-//—-

    Among other fantastic claims I found these gems:

    Other uses: Treatment of asthma, bronchitis, ulcers, snakebites, wounds, sores, lung disorders, fluid retention, fever, scorpion stings, joint pain, malaria, stomach issues, ulcers, gall bladder disorders, and generalized pain.

    I wonder how much of this is the product of pass the message. It is hard to believe that people can self-report pain relief when there is none, but I understand that it’s not impossible for a remedy that does nothing to have a reputation as a miracle drug.

  3. Plants in nature do have medical quailties which science has taken advanage off. Remember that all drugs come from somewhere in nature and that these herbs and plants can help with medical illnesses. Chinese medince has been around for centures long before science was around in Europe. However most are poisons in the wild and need science to modify them

    • All drugs do not come from “somewhere in nature”… Google “synthetic pharmaceuticals” and you can read up on all sorts of drugs made entirely in a lab. It’s very cool reading.

      In reply to #4 by ikinmoore:

      Plants in nature do have medical quailties which science has taken advanage off. Remember that all drugs come from somewhere in nature and that these herbs and plants can help with medical illnesses. Chinese medince has been around for centures long before science was around in Europe. However m…

  4. Yes, it was formulated as the ‘Doctrine of Signatures’, by herbalists from about the time of Dioscorides.

    Thanks so much! I will relish this term for many years to come! I am very familiar with metaphysical woo since I used to partake in it frequently. It amazes me how so much of the same faulty thought processes involving analogies are found in every form of divination. Consistency of analogies, meanings, symbols, used from one metaphysical tool to another, fools people into thinking that there is truth in the claims.

    I find it amazing that it states ‘It was reasoned that the Almighty must have set his sign upon the various means of curing disease which he provided.’

    Analogies work great for coming up with new ideas, creative thinking, solving personal dilemmas by viewing the situation differently, etc. but are wrongly used to solve problems that require new information or help from an expert with a good knowledge base.

    If I had more knowledge of psychology/neuroscience etc. I’d write a book about this. Or better yet, perhaps it should be a pamphlet or new Tarot card “the twisted mind” illustrated with a head twisted like a cord. Meaning: You have properly used analogy for creative projects such as art, music, poetry and finding personal meaning in life. Reversed: You are confusing creative connections and symbols with the reality of life. Seek out an expert’s advice in the form of traditional science and information in order to better guide you towards a path of truth and better judgement. Destroy this deck of cards.

  5. How is this pseudoscience? Was it established anywhere that the herb being discussed did not treat the ailments it was being used for? I hate to break it to you but investigating traditional Chinese medicinal herbs is one of the most active areas of research in at least one major multi-national pharmaceutical company trying to find new compounds for a variety of ailments.

    More to the point, the fundamentalist zeal against TCM and all the ancillary arguments that emerge in the wake, somehow even invoking the charlatan Chopra, sadly reveal many of the folks in the “Brights” camp to be something much more akin to the flip-side of the same coin with the Jayzuss bawling cretins being the obverse. Of course, that assumes the folks writing the criticisms are not trolls in the employ of PR firms living off of big pharma.

    Again, I am confused why this article is included on this site. Would one of the many heavily funded drugs which made it through FDA approval and was later recalled for either ineffectiveness, toxicity, etc. get mention? Remember DES, and thalidomide? Vioxx reduced inflammation, but doubled your chance of dying of a heart-attack. The list goes on, and on.

    This fundamentalist slant on this site is disappointing. I saw something on this blog a few months ago in the pseudo-science section written by a non-scientist (I can’t remember the guy’s name but he was a hobbyist/amateur cyclist with similar academic and professional credentials) which was similarly lame. This is the same sort of inductive sleaze tactic used by fundy-xtians.

    While I am generally a fan of Dawkins, tagging this article as pseudo-science is disgraceful. If Dawkins does not agree, then Higgs’ take on him is likely accurate.

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