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Scientific refutation of traditional Chinese medicine claims about turtles

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image of Applied Herpetology

The Chinese turtle trade is the primary threat to endangered turtle populations throughout Asia, primarily because of the long tradition of consuming turtles in China. Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) promote nutritional and medicinal benefits from eating turtles, especially those made from hardshell species. We tested these claims by determining the nutritional value of turtle products (meat, fat and shell) in five species of geoemydid turtle, Cuora trifasciata, C. mouhotii, Mauremys mutica, M. sinensis and Geoemyda spengleri. Nutritional variables such as the composition of amino acids, fatty acids and mineral elements were analyzed to determine the relative nutritional quality of turtle products. Our study refutes TCM claims about products made from hardshell turtles. Alternative animal products should be substituted to obtain similar minerals, amino acids and fatty acids. Balancing the cultural use of turtles with their conservation status remains a major challenge.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Hainan Normal University, Haikou, 571158, Hainan Province, P. R. China; 2: Department of Biology, Hainan Normal University, Haikou, 571158, Hainan Province, P. R. China;, Email:; 3: South China Institute of Endangered Animals, Xingangxi Road No. 105, Guangzhou, 510260, Guangdong Province, P. R. China; 4: Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA; 5: Department of Herpetology, California Academy of Sciences, 875 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA


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