THURSDAY, April 12, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- A toxic component of a plant used in certain types of herbal remedies can cause kidney failure and upper urinary tract cancer, researchers warn.
Aristolochic acid is found in Aristolochia herbal remedies, which have been used for centuries and still are used in many countries.
This study of 151 patients with upper urinary tract cancer in Taiwan concluded that aristolochic acid is a primary contributor to the incidence of this cancer in Taiwan, where the incidence is the highest reported anywhere in the world and where Aristolochia herbal remedies are widely used.
The researchers found that 83 percent of the patients had evidence in their kidneys of DNA changes that are related to the plant toxin and associated with the development of cancer.
"We believe our latest research highlights the importance of a long-overlooked disease that affects many individuals in Taiwan, and, by extension, in China and other countries worldwide, where Aristolochia herbal remedies traditionally have been used for medicinal purposes," Dr. Arthur Grollman, a professor of pharmacological sciences at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, in New York, said in a university news release.
In previous research, Grollman and his colleagues linked the ingestion of Aristolochia clematitis (commonly known as birthwort) to widespread kidney disease in the Balkans.
The findings of the studies show that public health officials need to take action to stop kidney damage and upper urinary tract cancer related to aristolochic acid, Grollman said.
The study was published online April 9 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The U.S. National Kidney Disease Education Program explains how to keep your kidneys healthy.