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The medicinal plant that kills the sick

Important to know: if you use herbs, this record may save your life. If you know people who use medicinal plants and may be tempted to order illegal prescriptions from abroad, please share the record with them.

The plant Aristolochia Labiata. Source: Wikipedia
The plant Aristolochia Labiata. Source: Wikipedia

At the beginning of the nineties, a strange plague attacked the women of Belgium. One hundred healthy women, mostly young, developed unusual symptoms: weakness, anemia, changes in skin tone. When they went to be checked, they discovered that they were suffering from chronic kidney failure. Or in simpler and more blunt words, their kidneys collapsed and died inside the body. The disease progressed rapidly, and its patients had to undergo dialysis treatments to stay alive, and in many cases also needed a kidney transplant. Half of the women tested also developed urinary tract cancer.

Where does such a serious and rare disease come from, just like that in the middle of life? It turns out that the only thing that all those women have in common is that they subscribed to a certain diet that included taking Chinese herbs. Also included in the mixture is the plant Aristolochia fangchi, which belongs to the type of plants known as mugwort. In total, 1,800 women ingested the suppository mixture daily, for twenty months. For most of them, the cups did not harm them in the short term, at least for now - and we will see later why there is reason to suspect that their health will not brighten their faces in a decade or two. In one hundred of them, as mentioned, the plant caused rapid and dramatic kidney failure, and the appearance of cancerous tumors in less than two years.

The cups are easy to recognize: they are endowed with large flowers at the end of a long, narrow tube. The flowers lure the insects to them by spreading an unpleasant smell (that is, unpleasant for humans), and they land on the flower and grope their way down the tube in an attempt to reach the focus of their lust. They are trapped in the depths of the flower, and only after they are well covered with pollen grains, the plant should release them on their way - then they fly on to the next flower and pollinate it.


Not only the insects are attracted to the cups. The flower reminds many in its shape of the human female genital organ, and as such has earned a reputation in the history of medicine. Already in the days of Aristotle, the plant was used in Greek cities to treat snake bites, head bruises, insomnia (difficulty falling asleep), constipation and more. Other ancient writings testify to the use of the plant all over Europe, the two American continents, in Asia and of course also in the Middle East in the last 2,500 years. The cups are a cornerstone of Ayurveda - one of the most popular methods accepted in alternative medicine, and is still practiced in India, China and Asia in general.

And, as we said, it's a shame, because all the cups contain significant amounts of aristolochic acids, and these - in a word - are carcinogenic. very

The dark secret of the cups

The Aristolochic acids kept the Sudan dark for thousands of years, but it was finally exposed thanks to an extraordinary disease that broke out in the Balkans, reminiscent in character of the plague that attacked the women of Denmark. In some agricultural communities in the region, women and men suffered from advanced kidney failure and developed urinary tract cancer. Unlike Denmark, where the disease broke out suddenly and after a short time of exposure to aristolochic acids, in the Balkans it would break out decades after the original exposure to these acids.

The inhabitants of the villages in the Balkans, it turns out, used traditional methods for harvesting and grinding the wheat and baking the bread. Since the cup also grew in the field area, its grains were mixed with the wheat grains, and the inhabitants benefited from a diet that contained a low concentration of aristolochic acids. According to some estimates, one hundred thousand people in the Balkans lost their lives as a result of the disease.

Arthur Grolman, a researcher from Stony Brook University, suspected that the aristolochic acids caused mutations in the genetic code of the Balkans. He exposed human cells in the laboratory to aristolochic acids, and discovered that they cause unique mutations in a gene designed to protect cells from cancer. He tested the genetic code of some of the sick Balkan residents, and discovered the same mutations there. The conclusion was clear: the aristolochic acids are carcinogenic.

Then a grim thought crossed Grulman's mind: Could it be that over the past thousands of years, humans have been poisoning themselves with these plants? And is it possible that we still do this today?

Grolman decided to examine genetic samples taken from cancer patients in Taiwan, which is used by many in traditional medicine, and at the same time is also the world champion in the incidence of cancer cases in the upper urinary tract. Taiwan's health system has documented that about a third of the population received 'medicines' containing medicinal herbs with aristolochic acids. In 2011, Grolman examined 151 patients, and found the unique mutations - of the same type also found in the Balkan region - in 83 percent of the patients.

And here the floodgates opened, and other researchers poured in to test the harmful effects of the aristolochic acids. Within a few years it was discovered that approximately five percent of humans have a genetic mutation that makes them particularly sensitive to the damage of aristolochic acids. These are the people whose kidneys will fail about a year or two after exposure to these acids. But the other 95 percent cannot rest in peace either. Aristolochic acids cause DNA damage in all humans who take them, and according to a 2013 study, they are even more carcinogenic than notorious substances such as tobacco and ultraviolet light.

Today, aristolochic acids are prohibited for consumption in most countries of the world. Nevertheless, in the Far East, some residents still choose to use mugs to create mixtures of medicinal plants. In China itself you can still easily find these mixtures - and also order them online.

Lessons from the past - for the future

The history of aristolochic acids reveals the difficulty in identifying cancer-causing factors, but more than that - it shows that even our ancient ancestors had difficulty sifting the harmful substances from the healthy ones.

Practitioners of traditional medicine often claim that it is based on thousands of years of trial and error. As such, it should be safer than short-lived modern medicine. But experiments that are not conducted carefully and rigorously are not worth much. Nature does not give up its secrets easily, as every scientist knows well. Primitive societies can indeed conduct basic experiments - has the patient's condition improved or worsened as a result of taking the drug - but these will be inherently limited because most drugs do not dramatically affect the patient's condition in the immediate term. Add to that the fact that the idol doctors do not keep data for a long time, and you get traditional medicine: one in which only the most deadly and harmful substances are immediately put out of use.

But what happens when such a deadly substance kills the patient only after many years? In such a case, the experimental method of traditional medicine is not sufficient to identify the problem. And so we are left with the cups as one of the ingredients in many traditional treatments. How many traditional doctors throughout history have accidentally poisoned their patients, not realizing that the 'medicine' they are providing will kill the patient in a year or twenty years? It's hard to even imagine the numbers. Suffice it to mention that until twenty years ago, one third of Taiwan's population - almost eight million people - used medicinal plants containing aristolochic acids.

This means that we cannot blindly rely on the history of traditional medicine, or on the implicit assumption that "what is natural is good for us". It is appropriate to devote additional resources to the study of medicinal plants offered to us by traditional medicine. And who knows? Perhaps we will still find there, along with major risk factors, also advanced medicinal substances.

11 תגובות

  1. n 1993, a series of end-stage renal disease cases was reported from Belgium associated with a weight loss treatment, where Stephania tetrandra in a herbal preparation was suspected of being substituted with Aristolochia fangchi.
    Intention creates faith...

  2. Haha, Yatsek, you're an idiot.

    Betya, the difference between prescription drugs that kill and "medicinal" plants from pagan medicine, is that if it is proven that there is a connection between the death and the drug taken, the drug will be taken off the shelves, unlike the "medicinal" plant whose name still makes headlines.

  3. What happened that now you remembered to write this article. The toxicity of this acid has been known for more than 17 years, and no one has been using it for a long time (at least in Western countries). You decided to make noise again out of boredom.

    And prescription drugs from a doctor - there is no shortage of those that after a while found out that they kill.

  4. At the beginning of the article it is the women of Belgium who become the women of Denmark in the sequel.
    You decide.

  5. A billion Chinese are not wrong - they ate from cups.
    Millions of flies don't make mistakes either - they ate chera.
    Bedouin medicine, Chinese medicine, Yurveda, Bach flowers, aromatherapy, homeopathy....
    How much more damage will all these idol doctors cause until a law is issued that forbids the charlatans of pseudo-alternative medicine to operate?

  6. Western medicine is to blame for the ongoing decline in life expectancy all over the world!
    Once upon a time, when only natural materials were used, people would live hundreds of years!

  7. The same goes for western medicines that kill the patient little by little and there is no way to trace the cause of the disease. Because the damage is very gradual

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