Herbal medicine is a billion dollar global unregulated industry with supplies potentially originating from a number of countries. Now a study by the University of Peshawar, Pakistan, has determined that a large percentage of herbal medicine is contaminated with mold.
A new study has investigated the level of toxic mold found on common medicinal plants in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, where the majority of people use herbal medicine. The research team analyzed 30 samples of plants known for their medicinal properties including licorice, Indian rennet and opium poppy. It was determined that 43% of the plants were naturally contaminated with toxins, produced by molds that could be harmful to human health. Thirty percent of the samples contained aflatoxins, which are carcinogenic and linked to liver cancer, and around 26% were contaminated with ochratoxin A, which is toxic to the liver and kidneys, and can suppress the immune system.
“It’s common to use medicinal plants in our country and to buy from local markets and shops,” said Samina Ashiq, one of the authors of the study from the University of Peshawar. “There’s a common misconception that just because they’re natural, the plants are safe. We knew from experience that this wasn’t the case, but we wanted to really test it and quantify the contamination.”
“These results are a clear indicator that we need more stringent regulation in place,” said Ashiq. “There is a real public health concern due to the lack of effective surveillance of the quality, safety and efficacy of these medicinal plants. It’s time for regulators to step in and set limits to protect people who want to use herbal medicines like these.”
The researchers suggest implementing hygienic steps at each stage of production: during growth, handling, collection, transportation and storage. Those that are exported for sale may be contaminated before they reach their destination.
Bashir Ahmad, Samina Ashiq, Arshad Hussain, Shumaila Bashir, Mubbashir Hussain. Evaluation of mycotoxins, mycobiota, and toxigenic fungi in selected medicinal plants of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Fungal Biology, 2014; 118 (9-10): 776 DOI: 10.1016/j.funbio.2014.06.002