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
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
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.