While traditional Chinese medicinal herbs are often viewed as a good source of nutrients, some of them have been found to contain dangerous concentrations of heavy metals, the Taipei City Government’s Department of Legal Affairs said yesterday.
The department tested samples of 62 products and found that several contained excess amounts of heavy metals.
Traditional medicinal plants are consumed widely by people of all ages a s flavorings in soups and teas, said Lin Kung-hsiang (林公祥), an official with the Taipei City Department of Health. He likened the medicinal herbs to “Chinese vitamins,” due to beliefs that their consumption helps replenish required nutrients.
He said that if high concentrations of heavy metals are present, they would spread into the food the herbs are being used to season, creating a risk of nerve damage, particularly if consumed in large quantities.
While the survey’s sample size of 62 was too small to estimate the relative safety of different traditional medicines, the results should cause concern about the sourcing of medicinal herbs, said Chen Hsin-chen (陳信誠), chief consumer protection officer of the Department of Legal Affairs.
He said that traditional medicines found containing high levels of heavy metals are almost certainly those imported from China, where the use of certain fertilizers can lead to a buildup of heavy metals in the plants from which the medicines are harvested.
Because China is the source of most of the traditional medicines consumed in Taiwan, even though customs officials test the imports, there is always a possibility that some problematic products might slip in, he said.
Chen said consumers should only purchase traditional medicine from large, reputable suppliers, whose high turnovers also reduce the risk of consumers being exposed to aflatoxin. The carcinogenic toxin is produced by fungi that can build up in traditional medicines that are not sold promptly, he added.
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