Traditional Chinese herbal medicines contain ingredients derived from endangered animals, toxic plants and livestock, according to a genetic audit.
15 samples of traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs) seized by Australian border officials have been analysed using DNA sequencing technology.
The analysts, from Murdoch University in Australia, found that four of the samples contained either Asiatic black bear or Saiga antelope, both of which are illegal to trade under international law.
Other samples contained potentially toxic plants. Writing in the PLoS Genetics journal, Dr Michael Bunce, who led the study, said:
"These plants contain chemicals that can be toxic if the wrong dosage is taken, but none of them actually listed concentrations on the packaging."
Many of the samples failed to list ingredients which could provoke a severe allergic reaction on the packaging, like soy or nuts.
One product which was labelled as 100 per cent Saiga antelope contained "considerable quantities" of goat and sheep DNA, while another product, Mongnan Tianbao pills, contained deer and cow DNA.
In addition, some of the samples appeared to have been ‘intentionally adulterated’ with prescription drugs such as anti-diabetic medicines, presumably to increase their efficiency.
Experts said the combined risks meant traditional Chinese medicines should be avoided entirely.
Traditional Chinese Medicines have become more popular over the past few decades in the Western world, but few have been validated by clinical studies.
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