Birthwort Herbal Remedy May Increase Kidney Failure Risk

Scientists indicate that birthwort, an ancient herbal remedy used for a variety of ailments, may actually cause kidney failure. 

According to a report published in the March 2012 issue of Kidney International, the journal of the International Society of Nephrology, the weed may have been causing kidney failure and cancer for centuries, especially in certain areas of the world.

The findings provide further support for the decisions made by regulators in the United States and many other countries to ban the herbal remedy.

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Birthwort is a weed that has long been used for the treatment of arthritis and edema, as a medicinal aid during childbirth, and as a healing accelerant. Its use was heralded by ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Greek and Roman healers.

However, researchers indicate that what they did not know was that the plant contains aristolochic acid, a deadly toxin that can cause severe kidney damage and cancer. Their study tracked the genetic signature of birthwort to more than 100 cases of kidney failure.

The number of deaths linked to birthwort is probably much higher than suspected, according to the study. While the plant is banned in numerous countries, it remains popular among traditional healers in Asian countries and often contaminates flour supplies in the Balkans, resulting to a high amount of exposure and associated deaths in both regions.

Even in countries where the weed is banned, internet websites have made the plant available to those who still believe in its medicinal properties.

Researchers indicate that they will publish a study in the near future that links the use of Birthwort to the high rate of kidney disease in Taiwan.


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