The senior civil servant from Essex has had to give up her job, as she spends three days a week in hospital undergoing dialysis.
As a result, anyone can set up a Chinese herbal medicine shop - there are an estimated 6,000 in the UK without any professional regulation or oversight into what they are doing - with potentially terrifying consequences.Trials of an extract of one herb by the company Hutchison China Medi Tech show significant promise for ulcerative colitis.Studies by the respected Cochrane Collaboration report that Chinese herbs may help prevent diabetes, relieve Alzheimer’s and treat endometriosis.In 1998, Sandra, a mother of six from Hove, East Sussex, consulted a Chinese herbalist about her psoriasis.Conventional medicines failed to clear the skin problem, so she tried Chinese medicine.Her GP referred her to a specialist, but her illness confounded doctors for weeks, until tests revealed her kidneys were severely damaged. It was my social life as well as my work.’ When she read of she says she ‘felt terrible’.They were removed and she now undergoes dialysis three times a week. ‘It was a great shock to learn that this was still happening,’ she says.Traditional Chinese medicine has been assiduously developed over more than two millennia and Western medicine is increasingly delving into its secrets.The German drugs giant Merck, for instance, has been studying Chinese herbs to develop pioneering cancer drugs.Researchers for the Arthritis Research Campaign recently warned that a Chinese herbal medicine for rheumatism contains thunder god vine, which is extremely poisonous if not extracted properly.The MHRA admits there is ‘no entirely reliable way of telling whether a traditional Chinese medicine is safe at present’ because ‘standards of safety, quality and product information’ in Britain are so erratic. A few years ago, the South Korean authorities destroyed 871 tonnes of imported Chinese herbal medicine ingredients because of excessive levels of toxins.