A recent essay published in Science Translational Medicine, a sub-journal of Science, concludes that herbal medicines that contain aristolochic acid are a main cause of liver cancer in Asia. Beijing News comments:
This is not the first time that aristolochic acid has been blamed for liver cancer. As early as the 1990s, overseas researchers found that aristolochic acid might harm human health. In 2001, the World Health Organization issued warnings about aristolochic acid because research results showed it might harm human kidneys.
This time, the China Food and Drug Administration responded in a timely manner, saying that there is no direct data in support of the claim. Its spokesperson said that aristolochic acid has already proved harmful to human kidneys, yet there is no proof that it harms the human liver. However, the CFDA promised to support deeper research into the effects of aristolochic acid on the liver, which shows its openness.
Some worry that if aristolochic acid, which is found in herbs widely used in traditional Chinese medicine prescriptions, is found harmful to human liver that it will ruin people's trust in TCM. That concern is unnecessary. Like Western medicine, TCM should make constant progress and adapt to new findings. The more patients it heals, the more public trust it will gain.
TCM practitioners should take the dispute over aristolochic acid as an opportunity to modernize. It is time that TCM practitioners and drug supervisors at all levels conducted deeper scientific research into the effects of the different herbs used in TCM, so as to reassure patients of their safety.
The central leadership has already highlighted the importance of developing TCM, and TCM practitioners should heed that call by constantly improving themselves.
The CFDA has taken the right path by allowing researchers to do their research.