British health regulators have issued a warning that some traditional Chinese medications contain "dangerously high" levels of lead, mercury, and arsenic.
On Tuesday, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) warned people not to use a number of unlicensed Chinese medicines, including a product called Bak Foong Pills, which are used to treat menstrual pain. The medicine has been recalled in Hong Kong after it was found to contain up to twice the level of lead permitted by the Hong Kong Government.
Another Chinese medication called Hairegenerator, used for the treatment of hair loss, has also been recalled in Hong Kong after a sample was found to contain 11 times the permitted level of mercury.
The Swedish National Food Agency, meanwhile, has found extremely high levels of arsenic in products going by a variety of names, including Niu-Huang Chieh-tu-pein, Divya Kaishore Guggul, and Chandraprabha Vati. These are used for the treatment of mumps, sore throat, tonsillitis, toothache, skin infections, anorexia, and fever in young children.
"The adulteration of traditional Chinese medicines with heavy metals is a significant international problem and can pose a serious risk to public health," said Richard Woodfield, MHRA's Head of Herbal Policy.
UK consumers can follow Woodfield's advice: "To help you choose an herbal medicine that is suitable for you, look for a product that has a Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) or product licence number on the packaging. These products have met the acceptable quality and safety standards."