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Popular Chinese medicine used for migraines could be FATAL, warn health watchdogsZheng Tian Wan is unregulated but available in the UKMedicine contains herb known as Queen of PoisonsCould be toxic for the heart and nervous systemExperts urge anyone who has taken herb to visit GP
16:40 GMT, 17 April 2013
06:54 GMT, 18 April 2013
The plant remedy contains aconite a herb once dubbed the 'Queen of Poisons'
A herbal medicine used by alternative practitioners to treat migraines could be fatal.
Zheng Tian Wan is unregulated but is available in the UK, and it has been linked to serious health complications and death, health authorities say.
The plant remedy contains aconite – a herb once dubbed the ‘Queen of Poisons’ by the ancient Greeks – and could be toxic for the heart and nervous system.
The ingredient is on a UK list of restricted herbal ingredients and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have issued a statement warning against using the product.
The MHRA said the issue came to their attention after a herbal practitioner supplied a patient the unlicensed migraine pills, which have not been tested for safety and quality.
The agency said it has previously received three reports of suspected side effects to aconite.
One patient suffered kidney problems, a second was hospitalised after suffering dizziness and paraesthesia (pins and needles) and the third experienced palpitations, aches and pains with shortness of breath but recovered after stopping taking the product.
Andrea Farmer, Herbal policy manager at the MHRA, said in certain circumstances herbal medicines could be extremely dangerous: ‘Herbal medicines can have a very significant effect on the body.
'In certain circumstances, such as when aconite is taken orally, they can be extremely dangerous.
'Natural does not mean safe. To help you choose a herbal medicine that is suitable for you, look for a product that has a Traditional Herbal Registration or product license number on the packaging. These products have met the acceptable quality and safety standards.
'And if you think you have suffered a side effect to an herbal medicine, please tell us about it through our Yellow Card Scheme.'
Websites selling Zheng Tian Wan advertise it as a ‘formula with a thousand year history that stops headache and migraine’.
Experts are urging those who have taken the medicine to visit their doctor
However, MHRA guidelines dictate that aconite should not be used in unlicensed products for oral use and herbal practitioners in the UK are only allowed use aconite externally on unbroken skin.
Products intended for oral use containing aconite are not permitted in the UK without authorisation, while only qualified doctors can prescribe aconite's use in oral medicines, under the prescription-only medicine scheme.
An MHRA spokesman said: 'It's difficult to say how much is out there, because it's a traditional Chinese medicine, so it's not something we regulate.
‘It is also difficult to tell what the levels are in a product without testing it but the fact is, aconite is a particularly toxic product so regardless of the levels we would advice people not to take it.
‘If it was sold online we could have it taken down to have it removed from sale but we do not know where every traditional Chinese practitioner is working.’
They urge anyone who has taken Zheng Tian Wan, which is made by the Shenzhen 999 Chinese Medicine Investment Development Co, or any other aconite-containing product, to speak to their GP or healthcare professionals as soon as possible.