BERKELEY - A Chinese herbal product known to cause kidney failure and cancer in people and banned for importation two years ago by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is readily available through the Internet, pointing out the need for FDA policies regulating the sale of dangerous herbals through the Web, according to University of California, Berkeley researcher Lois Swirsky Gold.
In a letter in today's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, Gold, who directs the Carcinogenic Potency Project at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, reports that herbal products containing aristolochic acid can be easily purchased through the Internet, despite 105 documented cases of rapid kidney failure due to use in a Belgian clinic in 1993 of a diet supplement containing the herbal extract.
Half of the 39 women who had their kidneys removed after taking the supplement were found to have cancer of the urinary tract, the letter notes.
Kidney failure associated with aristolochic acid has been seen in eight other countries and urothelial cancer in two other countries, Gold
Many names are used for such products, including fang ji (Aristolochia fangchi) and wild ginger (Asarum canadense).
The herbal products, which include those marketed as "Cramp Relief," "Cold Away," "Mother Earth's Cough Syrup," "Old Indian Herbal Syrup" and "PMS-Ease," are recommended on the Web for gastrointestinal symptoms, weight loss, cough, immune stimulation and menstrual cramps, among others.
A list of products is at http://potency.berkeley.edu.
"Aristolochia and aristolochic acid are known human and rat carcinogens," Gold
said in an interview.