UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has issued a warning to the public not to use unlicensed traditional Chinese medicines after discovering that some of them contain dangerously high levels of lead, mercury and arsenic.
One of the products, Bak Foong pills, which is used to treat menstrual pain, was found to contain double the permitted level of lead and has been recalled by the government in Hong Kong. Another product, Hairegenerator for treating hair loss, has also been recalled in Hong Kong after it was discovered to contain 11 times the level of mercury permitted.
The Swedish National Food Agency (SFNA) has also found extremely high levels of arsenic in several traditional Chinese medicines, such as Niu-Huang Chieh-tu-pein, Divya Kaishore Guggul and Chandraprabha Vati, which are used for the treatment of mumps, sore throat, tonsillitis, toothache, skin infections, anorexia and fever in young children. These products are unlicensed and not authorized for sale in the UK but are being sold on the internet.
MHRA has urged the public to exercise caution when purchasing unlicensed medicines because these products have not been assessed for safety and quality and as a result, the standards can vary widely.
“The adulteration of traditional Chinese medicines with heavy metals is a significant international problem and can pose a serious risk to public health,” commented Richard Woodfield, MHRA’s head of herbal policy, in a press release. “Natural does not mean safe. To help you choose an herbal medicine that is suitable for you, look for a product that has a traditional herbal registration or product license number on the packaging. These products have met the acceptable quality and safety standards.”
Woodfield’s advice to the public is to speak to their doctors if they have taken any of these products. Those who may have suffered a side effect from any of the medicines should inform the MHRA through the agency’s Yellow Card Scheme.