Herbal products imported from China have been shown to contain toxic substances that cause cancer.
Herbert Coker, a professor in the Department of Pharmacognosy, University of Lagos, UNILAG, on Thursday cautioned against the importation of herbal products. He said this is to prevent Nigerians from consuming toxic herbal medicine.
The don gave the advice in an interview in Lagos.
Mr. Coker also called for proper certification and acceptance of the locally-produced herbal products to enable them compete favourably with the foreign ones thus, discouraging importation.
According to him, it is only by fully developing and accepting herbal preparations made in Nigeria that the country could ensure its people are not exposed to unsafe imported herbal medicine.
Mr. Coker was responding to a recent discovery of carcinogenic compounds (toxic substances) called Aristolochic acid in herbal preparations made in China, as some of these could have been brought to Nigeria.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, aristolochic acid (AA), derived from Aristolochia spp., has been associated with the development of a novel nephropathy, designated aristolochic acid nephropathy (AAN), and urothelial cancer in AAN patients. Aristolochic acid I (AAI) and aristolochic acid II (AAII), both nitrophenanthrene carboxylic acids, are genotoxic mutagens forming DNA adducts after metabolic activation through simple reduction of the nitro group.
Scientists from King’s College London warned that millions of people could risk developing kidney failure and bladder cancer, taking herbal medicines from Asian countries, including China, because of the toxic content.
The scientists identified such herbal preparations to include those used for slimming, asthma and arthritis.
Mr. Coker said that such preparations were derived from a botanical compound containing aristolochic acids, which products had been banned in Europe and America.
“Ghana, as small as it is, will prefer that its citizens take their locally-prepared herbal remedies, than to have them take foreign products. This is because they are assured of the safety of their own herbal preparations having made them to go through a horde of tests before declaring them safe. Do not forget that Nigeria is a country with very porous borders and over 20 per cent of herbal remedies that enter the country come through the borders,” he said.
Coker advised all stakeholders in the herbal medicine practice and the drug control agencies to partner to save Nigerians from exposure to dangers of consuming imported herbal preparations with toxic contents.
He said the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had been demanding evidence from importers to show that their products were not toxic to ensure consumers’ safety.
The professor, however, applauded NAFDAC’s efforts at building laboratories that could do all the tests they required to ensure safety of products, before registration.
Mr. Coker blamed the availability of some unhealthy imported herbal remedies into Nigeria on porous borders. He, therefore, called for stringent checks by drug control agencies at Nigeria’s borders, to ensure that only certified safe products entered the country.