Aristolochic Acid & Chinese Herbs

Over the last several months, there has been much press coverage about aristolochic acid and Chinese herbs that may or may not contain this substance. The issue involves a purported unscrupulous manufacturer in Belgium mistakenly substituting a rare herb containing aristolochic acid for another herb which is free of the offending substance in a weight loss product. Aristolochic acid is believed to be responsible for kidney failures in some of the people who took the weight loss product, although to-date, according to Prabhat Pokhrel, M.S., M.D. of the New York College, aristolochic acid has not been found in those products in question through laboratory analysis. Accordingly, some of these patients were also taking diet pills concurrently that may have also contributed to their renal condition. The FDA, without direct evidence supporting the cases, jumped the gun and implicated several Chinese herbs, including several that do not contain aristolochic acid and are perfectly safe. At Tao of Wellness, we always have our patients’ health in mind and would like to take this opportunity to explain the steps that we have taken to safeguard our patients on this issue and our position. Tao of Wellness does not use any herbs containing aristolochic acid; furthermore we have fully complied with the FDA request and have removed all those herbs in question from our dispensary, even the herbs that are safe and do not contain the substance.

Below is the FDA list of banned herbs, which we have separated into the two categories:

Herbs Containing Aristolochic Acid

Guang Fang Ji (Aristolochia tagala et heterophylla et moupinensis et austroszechuanica)          

Guan Mu Tong (Aristolochia manshuriensis)       

Ma Dou Ling (Aristolochia contorta)                                     

Qing Mu Xiang (Aristolochia debilis)

Xun Gu Feng (Aristolochia mollissima)

Herbs That Do Not Contain Aristolochic Acid

Han Fang Ji (Stephania tetrandra)

Mu Fang Ji (Cocculus trilobus)

Hua Fang Ji (Diploclisia chimensis)

Chuan Mu Tong (Clematis Armandii)

Chuan Mu Xiang (Saussurea)

Wei Ling Xian (Climatis Chinensis et manshusica)

Xi Xin (Asarum heterotropoides et dieboldii)

Chinese herbal medicine is a very sophisticated science. It requires the practitioner to not only understand the properties of some 450 individual herbs but also how they interact in a formulation to achieve the best results. Extensive training is necessary to ensure that a practitioner can attain the desired outcome when administering Chinese medicine. In current times, it is also important for a practitioner to understand herb-drug interactions so as to avoid undesired side effects. Combining herbs that are harmless by themselves with certain drugs, in this case diet drugs, may result in some herbs potentiating the effects of the diet drug. While the investigators are still trying to confirm the real cause, what we have learned from this are two lessons.

The first lesson highlights the problem that is inherent in the instant-gratification mentality of the consumer. Instead of treating the cause of the disorder, in this case the overweight, many people opted for the “quick loss without any work” schemes which have always backfired.

Take for example the diet pills of the 90’s -Phen-fen and Redux - both of which were taken off the market because some literature found them to have caused heart problems.

The second lesson highlights the vulnerability of consumers in self-medication with natural products without the advice of trained professionals. In a booming era of alternative medicine, many manufacturers are jumping into the market with inferior formulations and worse yet, improper use and possible harmful ingredients to satisfy consumer demands. These manufacturers will give alternative medicine a black eye and cause unnecessary intervention from the FDA, which, as one can see from the above list, results in the removal of safe and effective herbs from even professional usage. This is sad news for everyone. We strongly advise that one should consult only with well-qualified alternative healthcare professionals for their herbal and supplement needs and trust only brands used and recommended by the professionals. An important point to keep in mind is that simply because an herb is not harmful doesn’t mean it’s helpful. In other words, the use of herbs needs to match the need. Also, what is the right herb today may change as the patients’ conditions evolve.

At Tao of Wellness, when a patient comes in and wants to lose weight, we first seek to find the root cause of overweight.

Then through a total program of health and wellness, we focus on restoring health, which includes proper diet, exercise, and stress management/behavioral modification. We incorporate only natural and safe treatments to detoxify the body and balance one’s metabolism.

In summary, everyone needs to be aware that even natural substances, when used improperly or manufactured unscrupulously, can be harmful. Always work with the best professionals who use products which are safe for your health and wellness needs. Tao of Wellness is proud to bring you the best of 38 generations of time-tested wisdom for your peace of mind.