BioScience Trends. 2019;13(5):367-373. (DOI: 10.5582/bst.2019.01244)

The toxicity and safety of traditional Chinese medicines: Please treat with rationality.

Cai P, Qiu H, Qi F, Zhang X


For a long time, many people have believed that traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs) are safe because they derive from natural products. However, this belief has been greatly challenged in recent years especially after some reports on aristolochic acid involved in the genesis of cancer. According to the Chinese pharmacopoeia, many TCMs are known to be toxic, causing damage to the nervous, liver, renal, respiratory, and reproductive system. How to reduce the toxicity of TCMs and how to avoid abuse of TCMs in daily practice is the question? Here, we will give a brief summary and some tips on these issues. First, the accurate differentiation of a specific syndrome is the foundation of an effective and individualized treatment strategy, as well as the key to applying TCMs. Second, through standard processing, proper compatibility, rational decoction, and appropriate dose for TCMs, the harm of TCMs can be effectively avoided. Third, it should be remembered that Chinese herbs cannot be taken continuously as dietary supplements. Finally, Chinese patent medicines should be used with caution. In addition, the dosage of TCMs should not exceed the limit prescribed by the current China Pharmacopoeia, which will ensure the balance of efficacy and toxicity. Taken together, it is necessary to treat the toxicity and safety of TCMs with rationality. The more toxicity we can find, the more safety patients will have.

KEYWORDS: Traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs), Chinese patent medicines, dietary supplements, toxicity, safety, rationality

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