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NewsBites June 2012 Issue

DNA Tests Find Risks in Traditional Chinese Remedies

That “traditional Chinese medicine” you’re thinking of trying for what ails you just might contain some nontraditional—and potentially dangerous—ingredients. Scientists at Murdoch University in Australia used state-of-the-art DNA sequencing to unscramble the complex mix of organic compounds in samples of herbal teas, flakes and powders seized by customs officials. Among the ingredients identified were plants linked to urinary tract and kidney cancer, along with ephedra, banned in US dietary supplements. Some of the 68 different compounds found in 15 herbal medicines are toxic if taken in too large a dose; the packaging failed to list the concentrations of these ingredients. Scientists also discovered traces of animals restricted because of endangered-species concerns. Other animal compounds proved to be adulterated: A remedy labeled as 100% Saiga antelope actually included goat and sheep DNA. Scientists concluded, “Traditional Chinese medicines have a long cultural history, but today consumers need to be aware of the legal and health-safety issues before adopting them as a treatment option.”

TO LEARN MORE: PLoS Genetics, dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1002657.

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