Research published by scientists from Curtain University, Murdoch University and the University of Adelaide have found that 9 out of 10 Chinese medicines had substances in them that were not declared on the label.
The Huffington Post reports that the research, published in the journal of Natural Scientific Reports, has lead scientists to continue further study on hundreds of herbal preparations across Australia in order to determine how far reaching the issue is.
Researchers will be paying particular attention to findings which indicate DNA of the endangered snow leopard was found in one medicine bought over the counter in Adelaide.
University of Adelaide’s Professor, Roger Byrad, told Huffington Post he was shocked to find the substance, particularly because it is of no medical use, “you can eat a snow leopard from its nose to its tail and you would still have sore joints,” he said.
Sadly only 4,000 to 6,5000 snow leopards remain in remote parts of central Asia, being hunted for traditional medicines as they are believed to hold a cure for arthritis.
In addition, Huffington Post reports that more than half of the medicines tested contained ingredients that were not declared, both of animal and plant species. The research group claimed findings of cat, dog, and rat DNA, however scientists have reassured that these were probably not intentionally added but may be due to contamination.
As well as animal DNA they have also reported detecting toxic heavy metals, with arsenic and lead being found in more than half the medicines analysed. With one preparation having an astonishing ten times the upper limit of safe arsenic consumption for humans.
The medicines included in the study are mainly used to treat ailments such as erectile dysfunction, asthma allergies and used as an aphrodisiac. But, Professor Byrad says consumers should not be alarmed about using Chinese medicines, “given the number of people taking herbal medicines, most of them are safe.”
However, he also says that people need to be aware of risks associated with using these medicines, saying “we have had two cases where people have died.”
“One woman developed liver failure, because of a mixture of herbs she was taking. Another fellow died when he injected the traditional Chinese herbal product chan su, which contains toad venom, believing it to be MDMA” he said.
Professor Byrad is hoping the study will influence Australian authorities to look into the trade of Chinese medicines, “we need to be much more vigilant, and when something like snow leopard has been discovered, it needs to be pursued” he said.