Heavy metal hazards of Asian traditional remedies

Int J Environ Health Res. 2001 Mar;11(1):63-71. doi: 10.1080/09603120020019656.


In recent years there has been an increase in the use of traditional Asian medicines. It is estimated that 30% of the US population is currently using some form of homeopathic or alternative therapy at a total cost of over $13 billion annually. Herbal medications are claimed and widely believed to be beneficial; however, there have been reports of acute and chronic intoxications resulting from their use. This study characterizes a random sampling of Asian medicines as to the content of arsenic, mercury, and lead. Traditional herbal remedies were purchased in the USA, Vietnam, and China. The Asian remedies evaluated contained levels of arsenic, lead, and mercury that ranged from toxic (49%) to those exceeding public health guidelines for prevention of illness (74%) when consumed according to the directions given in or on the package. Heavy metals contained in Asian remedies may cause illness of unknown origin and result in the consumption of health care resources that are attributable to other causes. The public health hazards of traditional herbal Asian remedies should be identified and disclosed.

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / adverse effects
  • Arsenic / analysis
  • China
  • Drug Labeling
  • Lead / adverse effects
  • Lead / analysis
  • Medicine, East Asian Traditional*
  • Mercury / adverse effects
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Metals, Heavy / adverse effects*
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis*
  • Phytotherapy
  • Random Allocation
  • Risk Assessment
  • Vietnam


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Arsenic