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Keywords:

  • Chinese herbal medicine;
  • phytochemicals;
  • genotoxicity;
  • aristolochic acids;
  • pyrrolizidine alkaloids

In the last decades, cases of poisoning due to herbal medicines have occurred in many countries; Chinese herbal medicines (CHMs) are occasionally involved. The experience gained from traditional use is efficient to detect immediate or near-immediate relationship between administration and toxic effects but is quite unlikely to detect medium- to long-term toxicities; thorough investigations of herbal medicines (toxicity assessments, active pharmacovigilance) appear then essential for their safe use. Genotoxicity is an especially insidious toxicity that may result in carcinoma development years after exposure; it can arise from multiple compounds, with or without metabolic activation. The present work reviews traditional CHMs and phytochemicals that have been shown to present a genotoxic hazard. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.