Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Warning against 'miracle' powder


Patients suffering from chronic diseases frequently pin their hopes on supposedly herbal remedies. Pharmacists from the University of Würzburg have now analysed such a 'miracle drug' – with alarming results.

A brownish powder pre-packed in small daily-dose sachets and without a patient information leaflet of course: A woman recently contacted Professor Ulrike Holzgrabe, Chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical and Medical Chemistry at the University of Würzburg, with a request regarding this allegedly 100% herbal miracle drug.

The woman, who was suffering from rheumatism, told the chemistry professor that she regularly obtained the medicine from a Vietnamese seller near Ho Chi Minh City and that she sometimes even travelled to Vietnam to buy the product there for a few dollars. She thought the medicine was worth the long journey, as it helped her excellently unlike the other drugs a German physician had prescribed her. However, she was curious to learn about the exact composition of this substance and hoped that the University of Würzburg would be able to help her.

Plenty of cinnamon and pharmaceutical agents

An easy task for the labs at the Institute of Pharmacy and Food Chemistry. "In a first step, we investigated the sample microscopically," Ulrike Holzgrabe recalls. She and her colleague, Dr. Gabriele Gresser from the Department of Pharmaceutical Biology, mostly found cinnamon bark components under the microscope. They were not able to identify further herbal elements as the powder was very finely ground.

"So in a second step, we examined the powder in greater detail using mass spectrometry and magnetic resonance spectroscopy," the professor recounts. These methods provided clear evidence: "The sample mainly consisted of four components: Paracetamol, Indometacin, Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim“, Holzgrabe says. Or in other words: The miracle drug from Vietnam contained a painkiller, a non-steroidal anti-rheumatic agent and an antibiotic. In subsequent investigations, Holzgrabe and her PhD student Johannes Wiest also found phosphate and another element, however, in such low concentration that they were unable to identify it.

High doses of various active ingredients

But the scientists were still curious after this first analysis: "We wanted to know the concentration of these substances in a daily dose of the powder," Holzgrabe explains. The result was equally astonishing: in one sachet holding 2.6 grams of powder the analysis revealed 863 milligrams of Paracetamol, 262 milligrams of Sulfamethoxazole and 42 milligrams of Indometacin. The Trimethoprim content could not be determined exactly as the concentration was too low. For comparison: The recommended daily dose of Paracetamol is about 300 to 1000 milligrams, that of Indometacin between 25 and 100 milligrams; Sulfamethoxazole is prescribed in doses of 200, 400 or 800 milligrams and Trimethoprim in 40, 80 and 160 milligrams.

Scientist warns against taking the drug

"The powder contained all these substances in pharmacologically active doses. In so far, it is not surprising that the rheumatism patient was satisfied with the powder's effectiveness," Holzgrabe sums up the result of her research. From a medical point of view, however, she strongly advises against taking the powder – and that for a number of reasons:

"Taking antibiotics on a permanent basis is dangerous. It increases the risk that resistant strains develop which are difficult to treat," she warns and points out that the painkiller Paracetamol is not appropriate to treat rheumatism as it has no anti-inflammatory effect. The professor further cautioned against possible interactions between the different substances and the side effects that could cause. According to her, there is also the risk of overdosing the medicine, as many patients take the drug on top of their regular prescriptions, thinking its 100% herbal. Indometacin is the only substance which the pharmacologist does not condemn entirely: "It can be used to treat rheumatic diseases, even though it is no longer the first choice of therapy today," she says. However, that does not change the fact that all ingredients except for Paracetamol are prescription drugs in Germany.

Produced illegally and banned in Germany

"We frequently hear of such supposedly herbal miracle medicines," Ulrike Holzgrabe says. They come as counterfeit Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or a mixture of plants that contain chemically defined pharmaceutical substances. The name "Herbal Viagra" is used frequently in this context. "Its effect, however, is nearly always due to the typical active agents Sildenafil, Tadalafil, Vardenfil or derivates of these substances," the scientist explains. She warns against taking these drugs, too: "Usually, the structurally related 'Viagra' derivates have never been submitted to any toxicological tests." Quite apart from the fact that all these substances are illegally produced medicines or counterfeits. And purchasing such drugs is illegal in Germany.

J. Wiest, C. Schollmayer, G. Gresser, U. Holzgrabe (2014) Identification and Quantification of the ingredients in a Counterfeit Vietnamese Herbal Medicine against rheumatic diseases. J. Pharm. Biomed. Anal., 97, 24-28 (2014)


Prof. Dr. Ulrike Holzgrabe, T: +49-931-31-85461,

Gunnar Bartsch | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:

Further reports about: Paracetamol Viagra concentration diseases drugs explains herbal powder rheumatism substances

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>