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Herbal remedies have always been considered to have no side effects or cause no damage to the body even if they don’t cure the ailment that they are taken for. A new research shows that this might not always be the case; this new study sheds some light on the adverse effects of Aristolochia or birth-wort (also known as Dutchman’s pipe) – a common herbal remedy that has been in use for centuries. In fact, it’s use is quite widespread as it has been used to treat a plethora of illnesses ranging from snakebite to insomnia, from constipation to uterine problems, and from generalized edema to head injuries.
This new paper published by Arthur Grollman of Stony Brook University in New York and Donald Marcus of Baylor College of Medicine in Texas notes that Aristolochia can have a carcinogenic effect and can cause kidney failure in those who have a genetic susceptibility to it. That accounts for nearly 5 to 10 percent of the population. So why exactly this happens? It has to do with Aristolochic acid – a toxin that is contained within birth-wort. Although, this study has been published recently, its root date back to 1990’s when the first link between Aristolochia and urinary tract cancer was established. Over the course of next decade or so, several studies were conducted to study the molecular structure of the compounds that were thought to be responsible for kidney disease etc.
What’s more troubling is the fact that Aristolochia is responsible for causing more genetic mutations than UV light and tobacco smoke even in those people who don’t have any genetic susceptibility to it!
“There is no way of knowing, in advance, what effects a herbal medicine will have. Only after extensive research has been performed for a particular herbal remedy it can be considered safe.”, the paper reads.
It would be no exaggeration to say that this study is a cause for concern. As this study only targets Aristolochia, there are still numerous herbal remedies whose adverse effects haven’t be discovered yet. More resources need to be dedicated to make sure that the herbal medicines that have been in use for centuries are actually safe to use.