Skip to main content
Some aspects of toxic contaminants in herbal medicines
Chemosphere (2003)
  • Kelvin Chan

A World Health Organisation survey indicated that about 70-80% of the world populations rely on non-conventional medicine mainly of herbal sources in their primary healthcare. In recent years, we have witnessed the increasing growth in popularity of over-the-counter (OTC) health foods, nutraceuticals and medicinal products from plants or other natural sources in developed countries. This indirectly indicates that the public is not satisfied with their orthodox medical (OM) treatment. Such increase in popularity has also brought concerns and fears over the professionalism of practitioners, and quality, efficacy and safety of their treatment methods and products from herbal and natural sources available in the market. Over the past decade several news-catching episodes in developed communities indicated adverse effects, sometimes life threatening, allegedly arisen consequential to taking of OTC herbal products or traditional medicines from various ethnic groups. These OTC products may be contaminated with excessive or banned pesticides, microbial contaminants, heavy metals, chemical toxins, and for adulterated with orthodox drugs. Excessive or banned pesticides, heavy metals and microbial contaminants may be related to the source of these herbal materials, if they are grown under contaminated environment or during collection of these plant materials. Chemical toxins may come from unfavourable or wrong storage conditions or chemical treatment due to storage. The presence of orthodox drugs can be related to unprofessional practice of manufacturers. Some of these environment related factors can be controlled by implementing standard operating procedures (SOP) leading to Good Agricultural Practice (GAP), Good Laboratory practice (GLP), Good Supply Practice (GSP) and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) for producing these medicinal products from herbal or natural sources. The public's belief that herbal and natural products are safer than synthetic medicines can only be ascertained by imposing regulatory standards on these products that should be manufactured using these Good Practices. Using Chinese medicines, as examples, this paper illustrates how advances in chemical and biomedical analysis would help to detect intentional and unintentional toxic contaminants in herbal substances. The paper also summarises how modernization and progress are being carried out to get the best out of Chinese medicines for public healthcare.

  • Chemical and biomedical analyses,
  • heavy metals,
  • herbal medicines,
  • pesticides,
  • proper use of Chinese herbal medicines,
  • toxic contaminants
Publication Date
Citation Information
Kelvin Chan. "Some aspects of toxic contaminants in herbal medicines" Chemosphere Vol. 52 (2003)
Available at: