Get access

Study of Heavy Metal Poisoning in Frequent Users of Chinese Medicines in Hong Kong and Macau


Correspondence to: Dr S.H. Chui, Postal address: 705 Melbourne Plaza, 33 Queen's Road Central, Hong Kong.



This study is a direct assessment of blood heavy metal concentrations of frequent users of Chinese medicines (CM), who had been taking prescribed CM at least 6 days per week for not less than 3 months, to determine whether their intake of CM could cause an increased load of toxic heavy metals in the body. From November 2009 to June 2010, 85 subjects were recruited with informed consent, and their blood samples were collected for measurement of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury concentrations. Results showed that blood concentrations of four heavy metals of nearly all 85 subjects were within reference ranges. Only one subject who had consumed plentiful seafood was found to have transiently increased blood arsenic concentration (29% higher than the upper limit of the reference range). However, after refraining from eating seafood for 1 month, his blood arsenic concentration returned to normal. Eighty commonly prescribed CM in both raw medicine and powder concentrate supplied by local distributors were also tested for the four heavy metals. Twelve out of the 80 raw medicines were found to contain one or more of the heavy metals that exceeded the respective maximum permitted content. Cadmium was most frequently found in the contaminated samples. None of the powder concentrates had heavy metal content exceeding their respective maximum permitted level. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.