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

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht ARTORG and Inselspital develop artificial pancreas
26.11.2015 | Universitätsspital Bern

nachricht Laboratory study: Scientists from Cologne explore a new approach to prevent newborn epilepsies
24.11.2015 | Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE)

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: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to supply 126 megawatts to onshore wind power plants in Scotland

27.11.2015 | Press release

Two decades of training students and experts in tracking infectious disease

27.11.2015 | Life Sciences

Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film

27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>