Aristolochia: The Malignant Lie and the Benign Truth

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This article was commissioned in response to a recent piece in the Lancet (Daniel Kell, Justin Stebbing. 'Aristolochia: the malignant truth' (under 'Quackery' rubric), in Vol 14 January 2013) which revisits the aristolochia story. The trigger for this revisitation was a completely unrelated case of acute liver failure in a patient poisoned by arsenic oxide, contained in a remedy that she had been taking (the nature of the remedy is not specified). Arsenic, the authors note, is a 'well known poison that has been linked to the death of several historical figures, including George III. Although we cannot discount the potential medicinal properties of many natural and alternative therapies...this case serves to highlight the potential dangers associated with the use of unlicensed or underevaluated products or their use without strict medical supervision. What better example of this than the traditional Chinese medicine aristolochia?'
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Author Chris Dhaenens
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