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Dietary Supplement Ingredient Linked to Rare Form of Bladder Cancer

A new study has found that the herbal remedy ingredient aristolochic acid (AA) may be linked to an increased risk for urothelial cancer.

A new study has found that the herbal remedy ingredient aristolochic acid (AA) may be linked to an increased risk for urothelial cancer. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has been suspicious of AA for more than a decade, when it was first associated with cancer and kidney disease. Signs and symptoms of urothelial cancer include blood in the urine, increased frequency and urgency of urination, and vesical irritation.

Dietary Supplement Side Effects Update 8/14/12: An article published in next month’s issue of Consumer Reports investigates the risks involved with taking vitamins, minerals, herbs, and so-called ‘dietary supplements.’ The report states that a large number of supposedly natural products are laced with active ingredients found in prescription drugs, and that users often experience serious side effects after taking them. Click here to learn more.

Dietary Supplement Lawsuit Update 6/7/12: In a recent landmark lawsuit, a leading online dietary supplement retailer pled guilty to selling products laced with steroids and agreed to pay a hefty $7 million fine. Many legal experts believe the case will set a new precedent for cracking down on vendors of adultered products. Click here for more information.

Free Dietary Supplement Lawsuit Evaluation: If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury you feel may have been caused by a dietary supplement, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to compensation by filing a suit against the manufacturer of the dietary supplement and we can help.

What’s the problem?

April 9, 2012 – Research published online Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reports that a number of people who took weight-loss supplements containing aristolochic acid wound up contracting a rare form of bladder cancer known as urothelial cancer. According to the research, AA comes from plants such as wild ginger that have been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to treat stomach ailments, coughs, allergies and breathing problems.

In 2000, the FDA issued a press release warning the public and healthcare professionals that AA had the potential to cause cancer and severe kidney damage. The very next year, the administration issued a follow-up letter warning manufacturers of dietary supplements to avoid using the substance in their products, which are not regulated by any governing body. But in 2003, researchers at UC Berkeley reported to the FDA that they had found at least 112 dietary supplements on the market that either contained or were likely to contain the ingredient.

The danger of AA was first documented when more than 100 Belgian female test subjects participating in a weight-loss program developed kidney damage and urinary tract cancers. Each member of the cohort had been prescribed a dietary supplement that contained AA. Though banned throughout Europe and Japan, the controversial ingredient is still widely used in China. Any product containing the ingredients ‘Aristolochia,’ ‘Bragantia’ or ‘Asarum’ should be avoided.

According to the PNAS study, the country with the highest incidence of upper urinary tract urothelial carcinomas is Taiwan. Curiously, Taiwan is also a place where herbs containing aristolochic acid have been in use for centuries. So researchers looked for a link between the two.

The study compared 151 patients with urothelial cancer to a control group of 25 patients with a type of kidney cancer known as renal cell carcinoma. The researchers found that AA causes a specific type of mutation on the tumor suppressor gene TP53, a mutation that ultimately leads to urothelial cancer. They concluded that the widespread use of herbs containing AA is a significant factor in the growth of the rare disease in Taiwan over the past 25 years.

Additionally, the PNAS research noted that approximately one-third of the population of Taiwan had been prescribed a medication containing AA at some point in their lives, and that countless more had been unknowingly subjected to the substance through over-the-counter drugs. Mounting evidence seems to suggest that the more AA a person consumes over the course of their lifetime, the more likely they are to eventually developed urothelial cancer. The researchers concluded by stating that aristolochic acid is “an international public health problem of considerable magnitude.”

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