Tue, Oct 17, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Tests of traditional medicines turn up harmful ingredients

HAZARDOUS The tests conducted by the Consumers' Foundation revealed high levels of mercury and a class-four controlled substance

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

A sampling of traditional medicines has turned up heavy metals, Western medication and even controlled substances, according to the Consumers' Foundation.

Of the 63 samples, 11 tested positive for Western prescription medications ranging from fairly innocuous caffeine to the amphetamine analog chlobenzorex, a class-four controlled substance used as an appetite suppressant in diet pills.

Mercury

Two out of 65 samples also contained levels of mercury above the legal limit of 100 parts per million (ppm). One medicine purporting to have a calming effect on children contained levels of both mercury and lead above 100ppm, while a product treating vascular stiffness was found to contain 3.5 percent -- ?or a whopping 35,000ppm -- mercury.

"This is a staggering dose," said Tian An-ran (田安然), a practitioner of both Western and traditional Chinese medicine. "Even over a short period of time, that amount of mercury could cause serious harm or even death."

"People have this impression that traditional medicines are milder and less likely to have side-effects," Consumers' Foundation secretary Huang Yi-teng (黃怡騰) said. "But often they have no idea what they're putting into their bodies."

According to Huang, consumers should avoid buying from unlicensed sellers of traditional medicines such as mail order businesses, traditional "ginseng houses" (蔘藥堂) and "traditional art galleries" (國術館) and stick to clinics operated by qualified traditional medicine practitioners.

People should also be wary of gifts of traditional medicines from friends, Huang said.

However, even among the 11 samples of medicines taken from traditional medicine clinics, one revealed the presence of Western medicine.

Tian was surprised by that result: "The traditional medicine community has worked hard in order to become more respectable and has come a long way. I find this hard to believe."

Questionable

Tian questioned whether the sample, which was submitted by a consumer, actually came from a licensed traditional medicine clinic, rather than an unlicensed look-a-like.

According to Consumers' Foundation Chairman Jason Lee 李鳳翱), traditional medicine practitioners are not to blame.

"The fault lies with unscrupulous vendors who are out to make a fast buck," Lee said.

Tian called for his fellow traditional medicine practitioners to respect the limits of their field.

"There's no shame in referring a patient who is better served by Western medicine," Tian said. "For the good of our patients, practitioners of traditional and Western medicines need to learn to respect each other."

The Consumers' Foundation analyzes traditional medicine samples submitted by the public for a fee.

To submit a sample, please call (02) 2700-1234 extension 206.

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