Ayurvedic Medicines Linked to Lead Poisoning

Remedies Used in Ayurvedic Medicine May Contain Dangerous Levels of Lead

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 08, 2004
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July 9, 2004 -- Using some types of traditional ayurvedic medications may cause lead poisoning, according to a new report from the CDC.

Researchers say 12 cases of lead poisoning have been reported from 2000-2003 among adults who used ayurvedic medications.

Although more than 95% of lead poisoning in the U.S. is caused by occupational exposure to lead, researchers say lead poisoning can also occur after using traditional or folk remedies that contain unsafe levels of lead.

Ayurvedic medicine is commonly practiced in India and other South Asian countries and is also practiced in the U.S. as a form of alternative medicine. The medications contain herbs, minerals, metals, or animal products.

Many ayurvedic and other types of traditional medications do not contain lead, but researchers found lead content ranged from 0.4 to 261,200 parts per million in some common ayurvedic preparations. These lead levels are especially dangerous to young children and pregnant women.

In addition, certain branches of ayurvedic medicine consider heavy metals to be therapeutic and encourage their use to treat particular ailments.

Ayurvedic Medications May Pose Lead Risks

In the report, published in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers describe 12 cases of lead poisoning linked to use of ayurvedic medications that occurred in New Hampshire, California, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas.

The lead-poisoned adults said they were using ayurvedic medications from India to treat a variety of conditions, such as infertility, diabetes, and arthritis. Each of the individuals had very high blood levels of lead, and no other source of lead exposure was found.

Lead can affect almost every organ system, but the most sensitive is the brain, especially in children.

Symptoms of lead poisoning in adults often vary and may include:

The number and severity of these symptoms increase as the level of lead in the blood increases.

Researchers say culturally appropriate educational efforts are needed to inform people about the potential health risks posed by these ayurvedic remedies.

They say women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant also face a higher risk for the toxic effects of lead because of the use of ayurvedic medications to treat infertility. Ingested lead can also affect a fetus.

A blood test is available to measure the amount of lead in your blood and to estimate the amount of your exposure to lead.

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SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 9, 2004; vol 53: pp 579-584.

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