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01.12.2017 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 1/2017

Monitoring heavy metals, residual agricultural chemicals and sulfites in traditional herbal decoctions

BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine > Ausgabe 1/2017
In-Sil Yu, Jeong-Sook Lee, Sung-Dan Kim, Yun-Hee Kim, Hae-Won Park, Hoe-Jin Ryu, Jib-Ho Lee, Jeong-Mi Lee, Kweon Jung, Cheol Na, Jin-Yong Joung, Chang-Gue Son
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​s12906-017-1646-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Asian traditional herbal preparations are frequently considered for the contamination with undeclared toxic or hazardous substances. The aim of this study was to determine the toxic heavy metals, pesticides and sulfur dioxide in decoctions that is a common form of final utilization in Korea.


A total of 155 decoctions composed of multi-ingredient traditional herbs were randomly sampled from Seoul in Korea between 2013 and 2014. For each decoction, the concentrations of four heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury), 33 pesticides and sulfur dioxide were analyzed using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), mercury analyzer, gas chromatography/nitrogen phosphorous detector (GC/NPD), gas chromatography/micro electron capture detector (GC/μECD), and Monier-Williams method respectively.


One hundred fifty-two of One hundred fifty-five decoctions (98.1%) contained one of three heavy metals (96.1% for As, 97.4% for Cd, and 90.3% for Pb, 0.0% for Hg). Their average concentrations (77.0 ± 79.7 ug/kg for As, 20.4 ± 23.7 ug/kg for Cd, and 68.8 ± 76.5 ug/kg for Pb) were approximately 20% of the maximum allowable limits of vegetable or ginseng beverage described in the Korean Food Standard Codex while their 95th percentile concentrations were below than the guideline for them. None of 33 pesticides was detected in 155 decoction samples, and only one sample showed over limit of detection for residual sulfites.


This study support that the contained status of toxic heavy metals, pesticides and sulfur dioxide in herbal decoctions are currently within safe level in Korea, and provide a reference data for the further studies focused on the safety herbal preparations.
Additional file 1: Table S1. List of 155 herbal formulae and their main compositions. Table S2. Pesticides analyzed in herbal decoctions. Table S3. Recovery for 33 pesticides at three concentration levels. (DOC 231 kb)
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