Aristolochic Acid – History and use in Chinese Herbal Medicines

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Xi Xin in Common Use

Ravid uses the herb Xi Xin, which contains negligible amounts of Aristolochic acid, frequently for respiratory and joint problems – always in combination with other herbs. When asked why Xi Xin is still in use, in light of the recent research, Ravid claims that Aristolochic acid is not dangerous in trace amounts (unlike chemical compounds such as ricin, which are toxic in any dose).

When mixed in a medicinal formula with a number of other herbs, he says, the other herbs (and the decoction process) counteract the toxicity, thus making it safe to consume. In addition, he says, short-term use, rather than repeated, chronic, long-term use of a particular medicinal formula limits any damage that might be caused by the accumulation of a particular ingredient in the body.

Supervised Use of TCM Medicinals

Unlike Western medicines, TCM formulae are tailor-made to treat the particular needs of the specific patient, and based on a thorough examination of the patient. Dosages and frequency of consumption are also carefully tailored to meet the patient’s needs. Most formulae are recommended for short-term use, and cannot be refilled without a prescription – which usually depends on re-examination. These standard practices of TCM are part of the basic theory of TCM treatment, which says that the internal workings of the human body are constantly in flux, and that any treatment needs to be based on the current needs of an individual.

Unlike Western medicine, patients with the same or similar symptoms may be treated by entirely different medical formulae in TCM, as the treatment addresses the underlying imbalance, rather than the symptoms of the illness. And, while there are a number of “one-size-fits-all” formulae, most patients are treated individually.

Avoidance of Aristolochic Acid in TCM

TCM practitioners have some 5,000 plant, animal and mineral species from which to choose when designing medical formulae. In addition, substituting one plant species for another is an established practice.  Since Aristolochia species are considered interchangeable with a number of commonly used herbal ingredients, it is an easy task for practitioners to totally avoid the use of Aristlochic acid if they wish to do so.

Resources:

Chen, J.K, et all.  Aristolochic Acid and Chinese Herbs. (2013). Acupuncture.com. Accessed August 28, 2013.

Chen, J.K. and Chen, T. T.  Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology(2001). Art of Medicine press. Accessed August 28, 2013.

FDA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Aristolochic Acid: Safety Alert. (2001). Accessed August 28, 2013.

International Agency for Research on Cancer. A Review of Human Carcinogens, Pharmaceuticals: Volume 100A. (2012). Accessed August 28, 2013.

*Editorial Note* The information in this article is intended for informational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Please see your health care provider with questions about your health or possible treatment options.

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