Chinese Herbs: Safety and Ethics in the UK

With any ingested products, be they nutritional supplements, foods, or Chinese herbs, safety is always of paramount concern. Even where products are regulated, as is the case with foods, safety issues can arise and as a result consumers can be harmed. Safety considerations are doubly important where regulation is weak (e.g., with nutritional supplementation), or where consumers are unsure of the degree to which products are regulated (e.g., Chinese herbs). Additionally, there are ethical concerns regarding Chinese herbs, for example, use of animal or plant parts from endangered species. As a provider of Chinese herbal therapy, Advance Clinic Hertford takes these issues very seriously and, while seeking to reassure you that Chinese herbal medicine is perfectly safe and ethical, it makes sense to look at the relevant issues in greater detail.

Chinese Herbs: Safety Considerations in the UK

Articles in newspapers and research journals over the years have highlighted a number of safety issues concerning Chinese herbs. Claims have been made that Chinese herbs cause toxic reactions in the body, that herbs can be cancer-causing or cause other types of damage to the body.

Chinese Herbs teaSome of these claims have undoubtedly been driven by media sensationalism and poor-quality research. Others relate to situations in which poorly trained and inadequately qualified practitioners have prescribed the wrong herbs, incorrect dosages, or have sourced their herbs from dubious companies selling contaminated products or poor-quality herbal substitutes.

It is also true that, as a result of good quality scientific research, certain herbal products have been found to contain toxic constituents which could be harmful. Fortunately, these herbs have been clearly identified, are well known and UK laws are in place which ban the sale and use of these harmful herbal products. The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM), the lead professional body for Chinese herbal medical practitioners in the UK, strictly adheres to all of the UK laws which prohibit harmful herbal products, as do all of its members.

Dr David Wheeler, your Chinese herbs specialist at Advance Clinic, is fully registered and insured with the RCHM and fully complies with all of their stated guidelines and therefore all UK laws. Additionally, he holds a full Masters (MSc) degree in Chinese herbal medicine and has therefore undergone the professional training required to practise Chinese herbal medicine safely. You can therefore be assured that Chinese herbal medicine at Advance Clinic is safe and is delivered by a fully-qualified and registered practitioner.

Reinforcing herb safety, the RCHM maintains a list of approved herbal product suppliers. The listed suppliers are audited and have to adhere to strict RCHM regulations if they are to retain their place on the list. Advance Clinic only sources herbs and herbal products from these approved suppliers.

Professional-level practice of Chinese herbal medicine itself carries only very low levels of risk. A recent and important large-scale, prospective, hospital-based research study involving 21470 patients by Melchartet al(2017) provided reassuring evidence that Chinese herbs are very safe indeed. In fact, the authors concluded that Chinese herbs carry less risk than conventional medications.

The Ethical Dimensions of UK Chinese Herbal Practice

Powdered Turmeric
Turmeric, the basis for the Chinese herb Jiang Huang

In the past there were complaints that Chinese herbal medicine involved use of parts from endangered animals and plants. This was certainly true for many years. However, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) dating from 1975 has largely eradicated this problem. CITES aims to prevent the extinction of wild animals and plants because of trade in these products. CITES guidelines now include some 30,000 species of plants and animals.

Once again, the RCHM has taken the lead in adhering to all CITES guidelines. All of its members have to do so too. Rest assured, Chinese herbal medicine at Advance Clinic is practised following all current ethical guidelines and no animal products or endangered species are used in our practice.

For more information about CITES go to


Melchart, D, Hager, S, Albrecht, S, Dai, J, Weidenhammer, W & Teschke, R (2017) Herbal Traditional Chinese Medicine and Suspected Liver Injury: A Prospective Study. World Journal of Hepatology. 9(29): 1141-1157.

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