Monday, July 20, 2009

Environmental pollution and the safety of herbal and alternative medicinal products

There is scientific evidence that many over-the-counter health foods, neutraceuticals, and alternative medicinal products may not be safe. This was revealed in a paper written by Dr. K. Chan of Hongkong Baptist University and published in the international scientific journal Chemosphere.

The paper concluded that “the increase in popularity of such products has brought concerns and fears over the professionalism of practitioners and the quality, efficacy, and safety of their treatment methods and products from herbal and natural sources. These products maybe contaminated with excessive or banned pesticides, microbial contaminants, heavy metals, chemical toxins or adulterated with orthodox drugs."

"The excessive pesticides, microbial contaminants and heavy metals maybe related to the source of these herbal materials if they are grown under contaminated environment or during the collection of these plant materials. Chemical toxins may come from unfavorable or wrong storage conditions or chemical treatment due to storage. The presence of orthodox drugs maybe related to unprofessional practice of manufacturers."

Just a little explanation for the above. Plants growing in polluted soils may absorb the pollutants like heavy metals, pesticides and other harmful substances and store them in their tissues. Studies have shown (e.g. Susaya, 2007) that succulent plant species generally absorb high amounts of heavy metals from the soil. The pesticides may also come from excessive pesticide application to control pests during the production of the herbal plants.

The article is just a reminder to all of us. It may not be true to the products that you are now using. But it may turn out that the fresh herbal plants that we can get from our own backyard maybe safer than the beautifully packed but expensive ones produced somewhere else.

(Photo shows part of the medicinal plant garden of a 12th century castle along Rhein River in Germany.)


Chan K. 2003. Some aspects of toxic contaminants in herbal medicines. Chemosphere 52: 1361-1371

No comments: