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Chiropractic Research Review

Dangers of Chinese Herbal Creams

Because of reports by patients that their eczema was improving after using Chinese herbal medicine, the authors of this paper investigated the preparations that were used. They tested herbal creams that had been employed by adults and children (ages 4 months to 36 years).

The research was done in London, employing high-resolution gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify the ingredients in 11 herbal creams, 9 of which had no list of ingredients on their containers. The patients had turned to this alternative medical treatment in part because they believed the herbal medicine was safe and natural. But as the tests revealed, in 8 of the 11 creams the effective active ingredient was dexamethasone, a potent steroid.

The creams prescribed for children had a dexamethasone concentration 5.2 times higher than those prescribed for adults. The dispensing of such potent steroids by unauthorized people is illegal in the United Kingdom. The use of creams with such high concentrations of dexamethasone is inappropriate, especially when applied to the thin skin of the face or to children. Such creams can even exacerbate eczema herpeticum, the very condition for which the herbalists prescribed them.

These findings call for tighter regulation of herbalists and the medicines they dispense, including more standardization of compounds, provision of lists of ingredients, dosage information, and appropriate warnings about proper usage.

Keane FM, Munn SE, du Vivier AWP, et al. Analysis of Chinese herbal creams prescribed for dermatological conditions. British Medical Journal, Feb. 27, 1999;318(7183), pp.563-64.

Chiropractic Research Review

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