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Press release: Toxic poisoning alert for online Chinese medicines

Press release

Date: 19 February 2013
Time: 12:00
Subject: Toxic poisoning alert for online Chinese medicines
Contact: Press Office 020 3080 7651
or press.office@mhra.gsi.gov.uk
Out-of-hours 07770 446 189

The MHRA today warned people not to buy or use potentially dangerous unlicensed Chinese medicines sold online after some products were found to contain excessive levels of mercury or lead.

Health authorities in Hong Kong told the MHRA that various products are being recalled and they should not be used by people in the UK because of an increased toxic poisoning risk. The products are:

  • Bak Foong Pills - used to relieve menstrual discomfort;
  • Fung Shing Paij Tian-Ma Wan - used to relieve arthritis and headaches; and
  • Shi Hu Ye Guang Wan and Nai Chang Ming Yan Pills - both used to improve vision in adults.

The batches of Bak Foong pills were contaminated with mercury while the other three medicines contained lead. The toxic effects of lead include abdominal pain, anaemia, changes in blood pressure, reproductive disorders such as miscarriage, weakness, concentration problems, weight loss, insomnia, dizziness, kidney and brain damage. The toxic effects of mercury include irritability, tremors, memory loss, insomnia, concentration problems, kidney and brain damage.

There is no evidence that these products are available on the UK market but they could have been purchased over the internet or by people travelling to Hong Kong.  

 MHRA Head of Herbal Policy, Richard Woodfield said:

We would advise any one who has taken these products to seek GP advice immediately.

“This highlights the dangers of buying unlicensed herbal medicines and the risk to people’s health. These medicines contain toxic impurities and the side effects can be serious.  

“The Traditional Herbal Registration scheme has been implemented to ensure patients can buy over-the-counter herbal medicines that they know have met quality and safety standards.

“If people think they have suffered a side effect to a herbal medicine, they can report it to us via our Yellow Card Scheme”.

Notes to Editor

  1. Please see link to the herbal safety alert issued: Hong Kong Department of Health issues warnings about Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) found to contain heavy metals
  2. For pictures of the products please contact the Press office on 020 3080 7651
  3. Herbal remedies should be used with the same caution and care as any other medicines as their use will have an effect on the body. While many herbal remedies are reasonably safe, it is important to remember that just because a product contains natural ingredients and extracts this doesn’t guarantee it is safe. You should always consult with a pharmacist or doctor to make sure that a herbal remedy is suitable for you to take and will not interact with any other medicines you may be taking. Stay safe when using herbal remedies, follow us on Twitter @MHRAherbals
  4. The Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) symbol is a type of trade mark which indicates that a herbal medicine has been registered with the MHRA under the Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) Scheme and meets the required standards relating to its quality, safety, evidence of traditional use as well as other criteria.
  5. For over 40 years, the Yellow Card Scheme has been the cornerstone of medicines safety monitoring in the UK.  Since the Yellow Card scheme was set up, over 600,000 reports of suspected side effects (known as adverse drug reactions) have been completed. The Yellow Card Scheme was set up in 1964 following the Thalidomide tragedy to provide a system for early detection of emerging drug safety hazards, and the routine monitoring for all medicines in clinical use. Reports of suspected side effects are also received from pharmaceutical companies, who have a legal obligation to report suspected serious side effects to the MHRA .You can report to us via http://yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk/ or phone 0808 100 3352.
  6. The MHRA is the government agency responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe. No product is risk-free. Underpinning all our work lie robust and fact-based judgements to ensure that the benefits to patients and the public justify the risks. We keep watch over medicines and devices, and take any necessary action to protect the public promptly if there is a problem. We encourage everyone – the public and healthcare professionals as well as the industry – to tell us about any problems with a medicine or medical device, so that we can investigate and take any necessary action.
Page last modified: 20 February 2013