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Aristolochic Acids

Aristolochia clematitis, a plant that contains aristolochic acids.

What are aristolochic acids?

Aristolochic acids are a group of acids found naturally in many types of plants known as Aristolochia (birthworts or pipevines) and some types of plants known as Asarum (wild ginger), which grow worldwide.

How are aristolochic acids used?

Plants containing aristolochic acids are used in some herbal products intended to treat a variety of symptoms and diseases, such as arthritis, gout, and inflammation. These products have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are often marketed as dietary supplements or “traditional medicines.” 

How are people exposed to aristolochic acids?

Exposure may occur through intentionally or unknowingly eating or drinking herbal or food products that contain aristolochic acids. 

Which cancers are associated with exposure to aristolochic acids?

Cancers of the upper urinary tract (renal pelvis and ureter) and bladder have been reported among individuals who had kidney damage caused by the consumption of herbal products containing aristolochic acids.

How can exposures be reduced?

To reduce your risk, do not use herbal products that contain aristolochic acids. The FDA provides a list of some products containing aristolochic acids.

Selected References:

National Toxicology Program. Aristolochic Acids, Report on Carcinogens, Fifteenth Edition. Triangle Park, NC: National Institute of Environmental Health and Safety, 2021. Also available online. Last accessed December 5, 2022.

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