A toxic ingredient in a popular herbal remedy is linked to more than half of all cases of urinary tract cancer in Taiwan, where use of traditional medicine is widespread, a US study said on Monday.
Aristolochic acid (AA) is a potent human carcinogen that is found naturally in Aristolochia plants, an ingredient common in botanical Asian remedies for aiding weight loss, easing joint pain and improving stomach ailments.
The ancient herb has been touted around the world for -thousands of years for everything from gout to childbirth, but scientists now know it carries serious risks of causing kidney disease and urinary cancers.
The latest research found it can interact with a person’s DNA and form unique biomarkers of exposure, as well as creating signals within tumor suppressing genes that indicate the carcinogen has been ingested.
In Taiwan, where previous research has shown about one-third of the population has taken AA in recent years, rates of urinary tract and kidney cancer are about four times higher than in Western countries where use is less common, the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said.
“It is a rare tumor and Taiwan has the highest incidence of any country in the world,” said lead author Arthur Grollman of the department of pharmacological sciences at Stony Brook University in New York.
“The fact that Taiwan had the highest incidence both of cancer and this renal disease — that was our clue that something was going on there,” Grollman said.
The research was based on 151 patients with urinary tract cancer, of whom 60 percent showed specific mutations linked to the herbal remedy.
In particular, after being ingested, the acid forms a unique kind of lesion in the renal cortex, and also gives rise to a particular mutational signature in the TP53 tumor suppressing gene, the study said.
The herb is known in Europe by the name birthwort because it was often given to women during childbirth. Derived from Greek, aristolochia means noble birth.
“This has been used by every culture in the world from the earliest written record,” Grollman said.
Signs of harm have emerged in recent decades, and the acid is blamed for causing a kidney disease called Balkan endemic nephropathy, first described in 1956, that afflicted rural farmers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Serbia.
The villagers were found to be baking seeds from a weed called Aristolochia clematitis in their bread.
In the 1990s, a group of Belgian women reported sudden late stage kidney failure after taking a weight loss drug that contained AA.
Even though many countries have taken steps to warn of the risks, the ingredient is difficult to control and still finds its way into products via the Internet, Grollman said, adding that most of the AA products currently being used in Taiwan are made in China.
“Many countries ban it, but it is always available on the Internet. And in fact you can’t ban it in the United States. You can only ban its importation,” Grollman said.
The US Food and Drug Administration warned of the risks of aristolochic acid in 2001, after two patients developed serious kidney disease after using botanical products containing it.
“Natural is not necessarily safe, nor is long-term usage,” Grollman said.
A debt dispute between a restaurant owner and a criminal ring might be behind a bizarre cockroach attack at the Taipei eatery on Monday night while it was hosting a police gathering, Taipei Police Commissioner Chen Jia-chang (陳嘉昌) said yesterday. Preliminary findings of a police investigation into the case at the G House Taipei suggest that the unusual incident might have been directed at the restaurant’s owner, who allegedly owes money to the Bamboo Union, Chen said. The suspects were Bamboo Union members and there was no evidence indicating that the cockroaches were targeted at the police officers at the restaurant, he
Taiwan’s armed forces should closely monitor China’s development of a new tanker aircraft, as it would significantly boost the Chinese air force’s capability to carry out long-range raids, a military expert said on Wednesday. Ou Si-fu (歐錫富), a research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said in an online article that China is developing a tanker variant of its Y-20 military transport aircraft, known as the Y-20U. The Y-20 has a maximum take-off weight of 220 tonnes and the tanker variant is expected to carry up to 60 tonnes of fuel, more than three times the maximum
QUARANTINE BLUNDER: The government should be responsible for a cluster infection at a hotel, as the cases have caused panic, DPP Legislator Chen Ming-wen said The Ministry of Transportation and Communications should make it mandatory for pilots and flight attendants, as well as their family members, to be vaccinated in view of a cluster of COVID-19 cases at the Novotel Taipei Taoyuan International Airport hotel, lawmakers said at a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday. The cluster infection at the hotel had led to 28 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, including hotel workers, as well as China Airlines flight and cabin crew, and their family members. The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday tightened quarantine requirements for pilots and flight attendants, who must quarantine
‘COLD ATTITUDE’: The man claimed that his wife of nearly 50 years had not cooked or done any laundry for 40 years and that she refused to bathe A court last month rejected a man’s application for a divorce over lack of evidence that his wife “would rather feed stray dogs” than her husband. The 90-year-old man, surnamed Chao (趙), filed for divorce from his wife of nearly 50 years, surnamed Tung (董), saying that she had not cooked or done any laundry for 40 years. “Every morning my wife goes to Gaoping Bridge to feed stray dogs and does not come home until late,” Chao said. “I am 90 and I need to be taken care of,” he said, complaining of his wife’s “cold attitude” toward him. Chao also complained in