Bear Bile Is Obsolete
"There is a bounty on the head of every American black bear. From coast to coast across America, bear carcasses have been found with their gallbladders removed and the carcass callously left to rot. Poachers and unscrupulous profiteers are commercializing our natural resources to make a buck, selling bear organs illicitly throughout the world and putting bear species at risk."
— Congressman Raul Grijalva (AZ-7)
The active therapeutic substance in bear bile — and in the bile of all mammals — is ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA). UCDA has distinctive biochemical properties that seem to protect the liver and biliary system from the more corrosive effects of other bile acids.
Before the manufacture of UDCA by pharmaceutical companies, bear bile was prescribed by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine because it contained a higher percentage of UDCA than the bile of other mammals. However, modern chemistry has made this fact irrelevant. Today, pharmaceutical-grade UDCA is now collected from slaughterhouses, then purified and packaged under trade names such as Ursofalk, Actigall, and UrsoForte.
These products are approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and are used by millions of patients worldwide. These medications are safe, widely available, and much more affordable than bear bile, which is actually extremely expensive. Moreover, pharmaceutical-grade UDCA is always regulated by agencies such as the FDA, so it is manufactured according to strict standards of consistency and purity. There is no reason to take bile from bears when the active agent can be synthesized.
Bear farm products are seriously flawed when considered as medicines. Farmed bears have a high rate of liver cancers, probably the result of chronic infection and inflammation of the gallbladder and liver. This, coupled with the collection techniques, results in bile that, by its nature, contains pus (while blood cells), debris, skin cells, and other impurities. Some of these elements might be present in the bear-bile compounds ingested by patients. Without analysis of each sample, it is impossible to know how much active drug is present in a given dose, since each bear produces different amounts of UDCA at different times.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) should not be criticized or condemned for its use of bear bile. Its discovery of UDCA has educated and benefited Western medicine. But change and evolution are a part of all progress, and this also applies to the use of bear bile. Indeed, many TCM practitioners avoid using bear bile. However, the population of China and other Asian countries is so large that even a small percentage of users can create significant demand for this product. Still, much of the traditional Chinese medicine community is convinced that the ingestion of bear bile is one practice that has outlived its usefulness. It is simply no longer necessary.
Those who continue to endorse the use of bear bile do not understand the true nature of bear bile and its relationship to UDCA. It is to be hoped that the governments of China and other Asian countries now supporting bear farming will recognize the logic of these facts and act in the best interest of their populations. By eliminating the use of bear bile and publicly supporting the use of the more consistent and affordable pharmaceuticals, they will actually enhance the health of those who need the therapeutic benefits of UDCA.