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Lead pollution in Australian marine life affects alternative Asian medicine

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Posted August 3, 2016

It is a well-known fact that alternative Asian medicine is based on exotic animals and plants. It is so popular that some of these species got endangered status just because they were targeted by the people involved in traditional Asian medicine. Although it is claimed that it is capable of curing many diseases that western medicine considers incurable, a new study The University of Queensland revealed that it is rather dangerous.

Devil and manta rays are used in an alternative Asian medicine, but lead levels in them exceed food safety standards. Image credit: Richard Harvey via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Devil and manta rays are used in an alternative Asian medicine, but lead levels in them exceed food safety standards. Image credit: Richard Harvey via Wikimedia, Public Domain

This new research showed that consumers of this Asian medicine, made from Australian marine life, may be getting some toxins instead. Scientists found that dried gills of devil and manta rays have become a valued commodity in alternative medicine markets despite the fact that toxins are present in these fishes. Scientists identified these toxins and managed to trace the illegal trade of devil and manta rays across Asia. This is a very important study, because these animals nowadays are extremely vulnerable and consuming them for imagined health benefits damages their populations even more.

Chinese government is trying to reduce the trade of the gills and these efforts resulted in a decline in these markets. However, in Hong Kong sales of gills of devil and manta rays are only increasing in the last few years. The reason why people are willing to purchase these products are presumed health benefits. Dr Kathy Townsend, one of the authors of the study, said: “Vendors recommend gill plates for ailments ranging from acne to cancer, and as a general health tonic, even though it is a new addition to traditional medicine literature and rarely prescribed”.

Many of these fishes for medicine are caught at the shores of Asia, but high-end ones are thought to be living by Australia. However, scientists found that in most cases lead levels in them exceed international food safety standards. Scientists think that this contamination is a result of lead mining in Australia. It is a big hazard for local wildlife, but no one before this study thought that it could also be a potential danger to the customers of traditional Asian medicine.

However, it is unlikely that it will deter illegal vendors of gills of Australian rays. Instead, scientists will focus on researching the effects of lead pollution to these vulnerable species.

Source: uq.edu.au

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