Creeps right down to the genes. When herbal medicine is deadly

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Creeps right down to the genes. When herbal medicine is deadly
Creeps right down to the genes. When herbal medicine is deadly

In the popular witcher saga, boys go through trials, acquiring superhuman strength, magical abilities, and longevity. Herbs play an important role in this, supposedly changing the metabolism and the basic systems of the body. From a scientific point of view, phytotherapy cannot cause such radical mutations, but it is quite possible to earn poisoning and even a tumor.

Treating diabetes and poisoning

Herbal medicine has been known since time immemorial, when classical medicine was in its infancy. And now many are convinced that there is more benefit from herbal infusions, different types of tea, plant extracts than from

tablets, because it contains only natural ingredients.

It is widely believed that herbs are environmentally friendly raw materials, they have a mild effect and are safe for the body. However, we are dealing with a myth that has no scientific evidence.

Unlike commercially available drugs, plants contain hundreds of chemicals, each of which can be biologically active. Herbal preparations homemade or purchased as dietary supplements are not standardized, not purified, often have not passed laboratory and clinical tests, and therefore it is not known how they act on the body, are combined with other drugs, whether they give side effects, in what doses are safe, and in which are toxic.

Scientists from India described such a case in 2017. A 73-year-old man came to one of the hospitals with complaints of pain in the lower abdomen and all over his body, fatigue, vomiting, and constipation. Eight months earlier, he had been diagnosed with diabetes and was taking herbal powder prescribed by a specialist in Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medicine.

Doctors examined the patient and prescribed conservative treatment, but vomiting did not go away. The next course did not bring relief either. Then they sent Ayurvedic powder for analysis and found there an increased content of lead, which is extremely toxic to humans. It was he who caused the poisoning and inflammation of the intestines in the patient.

It has been known for a long time that plants, especially roots, accumulate heavy metals and other toxic compounds well. Scientists use this feature to monitor soil pollution. The flip side of plant susceptibility is the real risk of poisoning if you use homemade preparations.

Losing weight at risk of life

Plants of the genus Aristolochia have been used since ancient times in obstetrics and treatment after snake bites. The acids of the same name contained in them have anti-inflammatory properties, and until recently, aristolochia extracts were included in preparations for arthritis, rheumatism, gout, and suppuration.

In the late 1980s, scientists discovered that aristolochic acids caused cancer in rodents. They were taken out of production everywhere. However, they continued to use it in folk medicine.

In 1991, in Belgium, about a hundred cases of kidney damage were identified due to the long-term use of Chinese traditional medicine for weight loss containing Aristolochia fangchi. Several hundred people in different countries of Europe and Asia have suffered from this "treatment". Now it has been proven in experiments on mammals that aristolochic acids cause mutations in genes, provoking the synthesis of incorrect proteins in cells. This phenomenon is called mutagenesis.

In 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer included these substances in the group of proven carcinogens, and in 2017, the Chinese authorities published the names of 43 patented drugs and 24 plant species containing aristolochic acids.


Fringed Kirkazon is a plant from the genus Aristolochia. They contain naturally occurring organic compounds proven to be mutagenic

The unexplored mysteries of herbal medicine

It is roughly estimated that about a third of people in the Western world are treated with herbs and other folk remedies for colds, fevers, inflammation, indigestion, constipation, cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, diabetes, central nervous system diseases, and even AIDS. In the United States, from 1993 to 2012, the number of phytotherapeutic products on the market increased tenfold. WHO recommends including herbal medicine in health insurance that has proven to be effective. All of these trends seem to stem from a strong belief in the healing properties of herbs, proven by traditional medicine for thousands of years.

At the same time, as noted by American researchers, the more widely herbal medicine is used, the more cases of liver damage are associated with it. This is a slight increase in the level of liver enzymes, and cirrhosis, and the accumulation of adipose tissue in liver cells.

Several natural components of herbs have already been identified that have toxic and carcinogenic effects. For example, pyrrolizidine alkaloids are found in over six thousand plants, including licorice, coltsfoot, and cucumber. Comfrey medicinal contains 14 compounds of this type, which are considered genotoxic. The most famous are simfitin, 7-acetyllicopsamine, 7-acetylintermedin and intermedin. As scientists from the V. V. Zakusov Research Institute of Pharmacology of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences write, these substances can cause mutations in genes, damage DNA, chromosomes, and micronuclei.


Comfrey contains 14 types of pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause cancer

Many medicinal plants (medicinal sassafras, Chinese cinnamon) and spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, anise) contain compounds of the phenylpropanoid group. For some, for example, safrole banned in Russia, the carcinogenic effect has been proven.

Among the huge variety of potentially useful plants, the genotoxic properties of plant compounds and extracts have been studied in a very small part, the authors of the review note. Many experiments have questions. Most have been done on cell cultures, in rare cases on animals, doses at which negative properties are manifested are not always studied, and the results are often contradictory. The manifested qualities of compounds in complex mixtures are little studied, and this is how they are most often used in folk medicine. But the very fact that compounds dangerous to DNA have been found in plants used by humans requires a more thorough study of this category of traditional medicine.

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