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HEAVY METALS IN TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
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亓官先生
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A speech of mine in 1994, XVI World Congress of European Toxicologist Association;

Dear Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

    It is a great honor for me to be invited here talk on my topic "

HEAVY METALS IN TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE " . I am doctor Chi, from

Taiwan, the Republic of China.

    First, I will show you some cases We have met in the past three years.

    The first case is a 14-month-old female  child  with severe

failure to thrive, she was only 6 kg. She did not gain any weight since 6

months old. She could not sit and crawl by herself. This is the radiological

study of her hand, we can find the lead line on the epiphysis of radius.

The history revealed she was fed with herb drugs for three months. The

drug sample was checked with lead content 1,300 ppm.

    The second case is a 1-month-old male baby admitted to pediatric

surgery ward due to intestinal obstruction. The surgeon found a big mass

in the ileum during explaratory laparotomy. The baby was fed with two kinds

of herb drug preparations by his grandparents.

    This picture is a 20-day-old female baby with intestinal obstruction. She was

found to have radiopaque material in the whole abdomen. She was fed with

herb drug for one week.

    In this slide, it is  a 7-month-old male baby with severe failure to

thrive and intractable seizure attack. He was only 3.3 kg, it is lighter

than his birth weight 3.4 kg.  The herb drug fed by the parents was found

to contain lead 470 ppm.

    This is a case of severe anemia, the one year old male child was

admitted to our hospital on account of anemia, the blood smear showed

basophilic stippling. The child needed repeat blood transfusions as the

hemoglobin decreased from 7 to 3.5 gm % in five months period. The herb

drug fed by the grandparents was found to contain large amount of lead,

mercury, arsenic and chromium.

    In the past three years, we have collected eleven herb drug samples

and checked sixteen metal elements with graphite furnace atomic absorption

spectrometry and inductively-coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry.

    And we find the mineral content varies between different manufacturers

and even different lot numbers of the same factory.

    One of the samples contains Vanadmium 90 ppm, Aluminum 22,960 ppm,

Iron 26,000 ppm , Manganese 490 ppm, Zinc 1,460 ppm, Copper 241 ppm,

Calcium 5,930 ppm and Magnesium 2,390 ppm.

    This result implies the herb drug doctor does not know exactly what

kind of minerals he has added to the preparation.

    In this table, we can find in this item the Arsenic content is 19,600

ppm, Lead content  is from 0.37 to 7.12 ppm, Cadmium is only trace amount.

Mercurial content is variable from trace amount to the highest one 62,700

ppm.

    The metals which we needed as iron, calcium and magnesium were also

found. In this column we can see the calcium is 3.27 %, iron is 2.6 %,

magnesium 1.78 %.

    This table is the acceptable daily intake of heavy metals estimated by

the department of health.

    This slide is the raw material of mineral herb drugs, cinnabar' realgar and

tremolite.

    All of you would wonder 1) why the herb drug doctor uses heavy metals

as major drugs in spite of its toxicity ?  2) Why the ancient Chinese

medicine preferred complex mineral drugs.

    We should traced back to the history of Chinese medicine.

    The metal elements were used before Han dynasty, about 2,500 years ago.

The herb drug doctor supposed the durability of metals, especially gold, can

prolong the life of man, even immortal.

    This book with orange cover, Shen-Nong-Pen-Tsao-Ching, is believed to

be written 2,500 years ago, and first revised 2,000 years ago, is still

now the pharmacological Bible of herb drug doctor. 41 minerals were well

documented in this book. They were divided into superior, middle and

inferior groups. The superior group were thought to be " not toxic,

you can eat as much as you can, it will prolong your life, even immortal ";

The middle group were thought to be " some not toxic, some toxic, if the

doctor uses it properly, it always cure disease "; The inferior group were

thought to be "  toxic, you should not eat too much, but it might be

effective in some diseases caused by cold and hot wind "

    Here are the two major principles in herb drug preparation:

    1. The manufacturer should obey ancient formula

    2. Family inherited secret ancient formula is always the best one

 

    All of you know Joseph Needham in Cambridge, England. He is now  90

years old. He devoted at least 50 years in studying the science and

civilization in ancient China.

    He found that according to the ancient record:

    1. Arsenic compounds had sedative effect for a short period;

    2. Realgar really encouraged the sexual desire at the very beginning;

    3. When the metalic " tan " made the votary die of heavy metal

       intoxication, the cadava did not corrupt several years later.

       It is the " acceptable form of immortal " 2,000 years ago.

 

    But it is only the superficial reasons. He says that the scientific

explanations of metalic drugs are as follows:

    ( And here we can see the original idea of Joseph Needham )

    1. The mixed minerals widely used by ancient Chinese medicine

       is because calcium, magnesium, iron and fluoride were added in

       the mineral drugs incidentaly, it is actually benefit to the

       health of patients.

    2. The toxic heavy metals were adopted as major drugs for the

       treatment of severe parasite infection which always took the

       patient's life if untreated.

 

    I suppose he has given us the final answer of this 2,000 years riddle.

    Thank you very much.

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