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Ayurvedic Medicine May Contain Toxic Metals

High Levels of Lead, Mercury, Arsenic Found in Products Sold in U.S.
WebMD Health News

Dec. 14, 2004 - One in five Ayurvedic medicines contain toxic levels of lead, mercury, or arsenic. The products put users at risk for metal poisoning, researchers say.

Their study appears in this week's issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Ayurvedic medicine originated in India more than 2,000 years ago and relies heavily on herbal medicine, writes lead researcher Robert B. Saper, MD, MPH. In the U.S., popularity of this ancient medicine has increased, and Ayurvedic remedies are now available from South Asian markets, practitioners, health food stores, and the Internet.

In Ayurvedic medicine, metals are considered to be important in the therapy, he explains. The researchers say practitioners believe the metals to be safe because they are reportedly detoxified through multiple heating and cooling processes.

Yet because Ayurvedic medicine is marketed as dietary supplements, makers are not required to show proof of safety or effectiveness, he notes. Yet lead toxicity from Ayurvedic medicines has been associated with several medical conditions in adults and children, including seizures, paralysis, deafness, and delayed development.

However, no previous studies have measured levels of metal in these U.S.-sold remedies.

Heavy Metal Medicine

In their study, Saper and colleagues collected and analyzed 70 different Ayurvedic medicines produced by 27 companies (26 in India and 1 in Pakistan) and sold in 30 Boston-area stores. Most were sold for gastrointestinal ailments and cost $2.99 per package.

They found:

  • 20% contained lead, mercury, and/or arsenic.
  • Seven were specifically recommended for children.
  • 24 of the 30 Boston-area stores sold at least one Ayurvedic medicine product containing one of these metals.

A few examples:

  • Mahayograj Guggulu with silver and Makardhwaj had the highest levels of lead, as well as high levels of mercury and arsenic.
  • Swama Mahayograj Guggulu with gold also had high lead levels.
  • Navratna Rasa had the highest mercury levels.
  • Mahalakshmi Vilas Ras with gold also had high mercury levels, as did Balguti Kesaria.

Whether metals in samples he obtained were already present in the plants or intentionally or unintentionally added in manufacturing is not known, says Saper.

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