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Stony Brook-Led Study Links Toxin in Herbal Remedies to Kidney Failure/Cancer

Posted Apr 09 2012 4:58pm

Aristolochic acid (AA), a component of a plant used in herbal remedies since ancient times, leads to kidney failure and upper urinary tract cancer (UUC) in individuals exposed to the toxin. In a study of 151 UUC patients in Taiwan – where the incidence of UUC is the highest reported anywhere in the world and where Aristolochia herbal remedies have been widely use – Arthur Grollman, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Pharmacological Sciences, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, and an international team of scientists, conclude that exposure to AA is a primary contributor to the incidence of UUC in Taiwan. This finding, reported in PNAS, holds broad implications for global public health, as individuals treated with herbal preparations available worldwide that contain Aristolochia are at significant risk of developing chronic kidney disease or UUC.

Aristolochic acid is recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a powerful nephrotoxin and human carcinogen associated with chronic kidney disease and UUC. The dual toxicities and target tissues were originally revealed when a group of healthy Belgian women developed renal failure and UUC after ingesting Aristolochia herbs to lose weight. Other cases of aristolochic acid nephropathy (AAN) and UUC were subsequently reported worldwide.

Most recently, Dr. Grollman and colleagues proved AA to be the causative agent of endemic nephropathy in the Balkans, solving a 50-year-old medical mystery that pointed to the ingestion of Aristolochia clematitis, or birthwort, contained in wheat. The study results were reported recently in Kidney International.

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