Diet and Weight Loss Drug Ingredient Poisons Potentially Millions

Diet and Weight Loss Drug Ingredient

In a recent article published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers from King’s College in London are warning healthcare providers and the public that a U.S. and European banned ingredient in diet and weight loss herbal drugs is still being used and is poisoning potentially millions of people.

The ingredient? Aristolochic acid, which has been shown to be responsible for kidney damage and causing bladder cancer. The use of aristolochic acid in diet products has resulted in a medical condition so prevalent that the medical community now identifies the condition as aristolochic acid nephropathy (AAN) for patients suffering from kidney failure due to ingestion of the ingredient.

Aristolochic acid is found in a significant number of herbal remedies as well as weight loss products. Aristolochic acid is extracted from the plant Aristolochic clematitis, also known as birthwort.

In one previous study, aristolochic acid poisoning was linked to an unusually high number of cases of upper urinary tract cancer in Taiwan where aristolochic acid containing herbal remedies are widely used. The problem in warning and preventing such poisonings from continuing to occur has met with cultural roadblocks due to the belief that all traditional herbal remedies are safe.

In a press release from King’s College London, researchers state that millions of people could be adversely affected with many people either being undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.


“We have found evidence that many millions of people continue to be exposed to significant health risk due to these herbal medicines, widely used in China and India,” says lead author Professor Graham Lord, Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London.

The study is an evidence-based review of the diagnostic approach to and management of aristolochic acid nephropathy. Their goal is to draw attention to an under-recognized medical condition to help raise awareness among the public and physicians in hope of improving epidemiologic, preventive, and therapeutic strategies to reduce the global burden of this disease. Their study proposes a protocol that would make it easier for physicians to recognize and diagnose aristolochic acid poisoning in Asia.

Although the study focuses on the danger in Asia, Americans are at risk as well due to growing internet sales of herbal products online. American consumers buying such products for weight loss or other uses may be unwittingly poisoning themselves with aristolochic acid that could go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because of lack of awareness among local physicians.

For an informative article about the dangers of aristolochic acid and a list of products to avoid recommended by the FDA, follow this link to an article titled “Popular Weight Loss Herbal Remedies Linked to Cancer."

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “The Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Management of Aristolochic Acid Nephropathy: A Narrative Review” Annals of Internal Medicine 19 March 2013; 158(6):469-477; M. Refik Gökmen, PhD, et al.


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