Cross-Cultural Miscommunication

By Kang-Yum, Elaine | The Hastings Center Report, May-June 1996 | Go to article overview

Cross-Cultural Miscommunication


Kang-Yum, Elaine, The Hastings Center Report


Chinese herbal medicines are advertised as having impressive medicinal qualities, yet are neither classified nor regulated as medicines by the Food and Drug Administration. Yet, like any medicine, their misuse can be dangerous. In fact, an increase in reported cases of severe and fatal poisonings has motivated the FDA, the California Health Department, and the Hudson Valley Regional Poison Control Center to begin gathering data on the adverse effects, contraindications, and other potential problems of using herbal medicines. The aim is to make the public and the medical community more aware of these potential health hazards and eventually to provide the medical community with more data.

Many factors can contribute to the hazardous use of medicinal herbs. For one, they are so numerous and can be mixed in so many different combinations the margin of error in preparation is large. Moreover, the labeling for these herbs does not always accurately reflect the contents nor provide appropriate directions and warnings. Even when proper directions and warnings are provided, they are often printed only in Chinese. And because these products come from multiple sources--Hong Kong, Taiwan, China--the products lack uniformity. Some herbal products, claiming "impressive" treatment results, have been found to contain various Western medicines, including barbiturates, nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory agents, antibiotics, diuretics, and narcotic pain relievers. Heavy metals also have been found in various concentrations in a handful of products. …

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