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Asian Herbal Remedy May Increase Risk of Liver Cancer: Study

Certain compounds extracted from plants used in traditional Asian herbal remedies may increase the risk of urinary tract, kidney and liver cancers, according to the findings of a new study. 

Research published last week in the medical journal Science Translational Medicine has identified several traditional medications that included Aristolochia and related plants that contain nephrotoxins and mutagens in the form of aristolich acids (AA) and other similar compounds, which may be linked to kidney problems.

Forms of aristolich acids are found in aristolochia and as arum plants that are used in a wide variety of every-day use medications across Asia for slimming and weight loss.

Past studies have found aristolich acids to be linked to a variety of kidney failure issues. Due to the toxicities of the extracts, herbs containing the compounds have been restricted and banned in some countries, although still remains available on the internet and in alternate formulations, especially in Asia.

Researchers led by Steven Rozen, professor of Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, began to examine patients at a Taiwan hospital and found that of the 98 patients with liver tumors, 78 percent showed signs indicating exposure to aristolich acid compounds.

Scientists pulled global data to examine 1,400 liver cancer mutations and found that 47 percent of case found in China and 29 percent recorded in Southeast Asia showed evidence of exposure to aristolich acid compounds.

Other countries showed evidence of exposure among their rates of  liver cancer as well, with aristolich acid suspected of being a contributing factor of 13 percent of liver cancer cases in Korea, 2.7 percent in Japan, 4.8 percent in North America, and 1.7 Europe.

An estimated 200,000 or more cases of liver cancer are recorded every year and result in an average of 30,000 or more deaths annually. The diagnoses of liver cancer require lab testing and imaging to determine and assign diagnosis. Liver cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that has more than tripled in prevalence since the 1980’s. Currently, forms of liver cancer are not curable and are only treatable with a 5-year survival rate at 31 percent if the cancer is found in its early stages.

The FDA has released Aristolich Acids (AA) warnings in the past, stating concerns over potential kidney damage side effects. However within the United States, the compound is not regulated as long as manufacturers label products accurately and do not claim medical benefit from the use of AA.

“The findings here indicate that exposure to aristolochic acids and their derivatives is geographically widespread, implying substantial opportunities for primary and secondary prevention,” the researchers determined. “In light of the wide availability of AA-containing plants, education and public awareness are paramount for primary prevention.”

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