Medicinal wine can create health risks

HA NOI — Medicinal wines have remained a favourite drink for many Vietnamese men despite serious warnings of potential risks from doctors and herbalists.

Customers select medicinal wines at a shop in Ha Noi. The brews are made from herbs, reptiles and mammals steeped in spirits. Doctors however said that these traditional beverages can be dangerous if not used properly. — VNS Photo Truong Vi.

"Drinking these wines are in theory like taking medicine, so people really should seek out expert advice in order to avoid unexpected consequences," said Tran Van Quang, a herbalist of Viet Nam Oriental Medicine Association.

However few heed this kind of warnings.

Most of 30 men randomly surveyed by Viet Nam News said they knew about the advantages of medicinal wines by word of mouth and had tried them.

"I drink different kinds of medicinal wines, especially snake wine, to help improve my health," said Nguyen Van Vuong, 48, of Ha Noi.

"I don't think there's any harm drinking medicinal wines unless you drink too much," Vuong said.

But herbalist Quang disagrees.

He said medicinal wines could cause problems if taken in excessive amounts. He cited the case of one of his patients who became ill after drinking deer antler wine which is widely believed to promote good health.

A 50 year-old man from Ha Noi's Tay Ho District experienced high blood pressure, had an acute reaction which led to his skin constantly peeling off and died shortly after.

According to Quang, the patient had regularly drank antler wine. The medicine would work only when it suited to the patient's illness and when taken in the prescribed amount, he said.

Double risk

When it comes to medicinal wines, the two main ingredients are wine and "medicines", which can include herbs or insects, reptiles, and mammals that had been soaked in wine. Therefore, the effectiveness and quality of the wines also depended on the quality of ingredients and the liquor, said Bach Mai Hospital's Viet Nam Poison Control Centre deputy director Nguyen Kim Son.

He warned against substandard or fake wines which were made with methanol. In some localities, wine producers even added urea fertiliser, he added.

"Methanol poisoning can cause serious consequences such as blindness, liver failure, kidney failure or even death because it consists of a solvent to make paint, glass cleaner and photocopier ink," said Son.

"Ignoring the basic issue whether medicinal wines are good for the health or not, we should certainly be concerned about the vague origins and improper production process that are employed as they could prove poisonous," Son said.

Snake, gecko, tryonychid turtle are popular ingredients in medicinal wines but Quang said most reptiles and insects contained toxins that could harm human health.

For example, gecko wine is dangerous for people who suffer from kidney failure, colds or asthma.

Mashed bee wine was definitely dangerous because the bees contain toxic substances.

Doctor Son suggested people should not drink more than 15-30ml of these wines a day.

Oriental medicinal wines have long been believed to help promote blood circulation, with the alcohol helping the body absorb the medicinal content. Some recipes are believed to help prolong human life or improve men's sexual stamina.

(By Bich Huong and Ha-Anh)

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