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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)

Link between traditional Chinese medicine and liver transplants? 100 Hong Kong cases stir concern

Doctors urge public to exercise caution in taking the health supplement as causation remains unclear

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2016, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 2:45pm

A three-year-old boy was among some 100 patients in the past two decades to require a life-saving liver transplant after having taken traditional Chinese medicine, according to a local surgeon.

The boy, found to have a serious liver problem about six years ago, had taken traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) given by his grandmother to boost his appetite, said Dr Kenneth Chok, associate professor of surgery at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam.

Chok said the boy had undergone a successful liver transplant. But the surgeon declined to share more details about him.

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While Chok stressed there was still no scientific evidence to prove that TCM had caused liver infection problems, he advised the public to exercise caution in taking the health supplement.

“There is an increasing trend of liver patients with a history of taking TCM,” Chok said on Wednesday at a medical conference in the city.

The 100 cases, ranging in age from 3 to 66, accounted for around 8 per cent of the hospital's liver transplants between 1991 and last year. Some 75 per cent of the 100 patients had hepatitis B.

Chok stated the hospital did not know whether the patients started taking TCM because they had liver problems or whether their problems arose because of TCM. “But some TCM is hepatoxic,” he said.

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Another local doctor said one quarter of hepatitis cases at local public hospitals were believed to be linked to TCM.

Dr Walter Seto Wai-kay, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, added it was important for Chinese and Western doctors to better engage and understand one another with respect to prescribing medicines.

Seto and Chok advised the public to only consult licensed TCM practitioners and not to sample medicines of dubious or unclear origin.