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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK


Quality checks for herbal remedies

The new authentication centre is in London's Kew Gardens

Chinese and British doctors have set up a centre to test the safety of herbal medicines.

BBC Reporter Rachel Ellison examines the measures to ensure quality
The herbal authentication centre has been established by Kew Gardens in London with Chinese doctors and doctors from Guy's Hospital's poison unit.

It follows calls earlier this year by European Union and government ministers for proper regulation of the burgeoning herbal medicine market.

There are thought to be more than 600 herbal medicine centres in the UK.

The herbal business is believed to have a turnover of £54m a year in the UK.

Quality control

Dr Vincent Yu, a herbal practitioner, is worried about lack of regulation in the business.

Professor Vincent Marks discusses the dangers of herbal medicine with Ann Gillanders
He said: "Some people in the UK get training for a few months, but in China they normally have five years' clinical training."

Christine Leon of the Kew Garden authentication centre said its aim was to introduce some quality control into the industry.

Dr Virginia Murray of Guy's Poisons Unit said: "Long-term health effects have arisen as a result of using these remedies.

[ image: Dr Virginia Murray: legislation could improve quality]
Dr Virginia Murray: legislation could improve quality
"We are very concerned legislation might help to limit potential harm that might occur but still allow these rememdies to be out there because they may well be of enormous use to many people."

It is hoped that the centre will become an international reference point for the herbal remedy business.

Professor Vincent Marks, a former chemical pathologist, told the BBC's One O' Clock News that he gave his full support to attempts to introduce some quality control into herbal medicine.

"Just because something is natural does not mean that it is safe. In fact, most of our deadly poisons are natural."


He added that, because they contained an active ingredient, some herbal medicines could be dangerous if not used properly.

[ image: Professor Vincent Marks: 'most of our deadly poisons are natural']
Professor Vincent Marks: 'most of our deadly poisons are natural'
For example, digitalis (found in foxgloves) was hailed as a wonder drug for heart disease.

But it was found to be fatal if prescribed incorrectly.

Ann Gillanders of the British School of Reflexology said most herbal doctors studied for four years and to degree level.

"Most people consult herbalists and other alternative practitioners when they have tried other approaches and they have failed.

"They are looking for another way to help their health," she said.

She advised people to take care when choosing a herbal practitioner.

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