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Hidden danger of herbal remedies; The death of Newcastle graduate Ling Wang after taking Chinese herbal medicine has re-opened the debate on the practice. ALASTAIR CRAIG looks at the conflicting views.

Byline: ALASTAIR CRAIG

THEY'RE on many High Streets, their wares a mystery to most.

Chinese herbalists are big business, as many of us turn our backs on Western remedies and seek alternative treatments.

This 3,000-year-old tradition, unlike conventional medicine, aims to correct disharmony in major organs and the immune system to improve the body's overall resilience to ill-health.

But the death of a former Newcastle University student has re-opened the debate on the safety of Chinese medicine.

We told last night how PhD student Ling Wang died from liver failure after she used a herbal remedy to tackle a skin rash and stomach upset.

An inquest heard the 25-year-old, of Spital Tongues, Newcastle, fell into a coma after taking an unknown Chinese medicine.

Pathologists said Jin Bu Huan could have been the remedy she had taken.

In 2002, a study at Newcastle University's School of Clinical Medical Sciences investigated the link between hepatitis and Chinese herbs.

Prof Margaret Bassendine, head of hepatology at the university, said: "Traditional Chinese herbal medicines are widely available in Western society and are popular as a form of 'natural' alternative medicine.

"Their use is increasing, as they are perceived to be free of side-effects, but they remain largely unregulated.

We describe two patients who suffered severe hepatitis, one of whom died, after taking Chinese herbal remedies for minor complaints.

"Two products appear to be implicated frequently: Jin Bu Huan was taken by 11 patients, and Dictamnus dasycarpus was taken by six patients, including both severe cases.

"It is difficult to provide conclusive evidence of what caused hepatitis but these cases highlight not only the potential dangers of these products, but also the need for greater control."

Dr George Rae, regional spokesman for the British Medical Association, advised caution.

He said: "It's well recognised that doctors will get patients coming in asking about herbal medicine and you have to be aware of the fact herbal medicine can have sideeffects the same as traditional medicine.

"Herbal preparations can, on occasion, interact with the conventional medicine people are also taking.

The advice is always to speak to your GP or pharmacist."

But the Complimentary Medical Association insists: "Many herbs, quite clearly, do work and we have the trials to prove it."

CMA president Jayney Goddard, said: "Across Europe and in Germany in particular, we see alternative medicine taken very seriously indeed."

For further information, visit www.rchm.co.uk or The Complementary Medical Association at www.thecma.org.uk

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TRAGIC END: Ling Wang died; REPORT: Our front page last night; ANCIENT CURE: Chinese herbal remedies are a popular alternative
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 25, 2008
Words:434
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