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Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine Products - Their heavy metal content

Elpis - Thu, 20 Jan 2005 20:57:51 +0530
I thought that I would call attention to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, namely

Saper et al, Heavy Metal Content of Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine Products. JAMA, December 15, 2004--Vol. 292, No. 23, pp. 2868-2873.

The abstract can be read here.

The stated conclusion is:

One of 5 Ayurvedic HMPs produced in South Asia and available in Boston South Asian grocery stores contains potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury, and/or arsenic. Users of Ayurvedic medicine may be at risk for heavy metal toxicity, and testing of Ayurvedic HMPs [Herbal Medicine Products] for toxic heavy metals should be mandatory.
braja - Thu, 20 Jan 2005 21:47:10 +0530
Forbes has this also:

Heavy Metals Found in Indian Herbs
By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Dec. 14 (HealthDayNews) -- One in five herbal products tied to an ancient Indian form of alternative medicine could contain potentially toxic levels of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic, a new survey finds.

Although the health hazards posed by these products vary depending on the level of metal and the characteristics of the person taking it, they are nevertheless real, say the authors of the study, which appears in the Dec. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Users of certain Ayurvedic medicines that are manufactured in India and Pakistan may be at risk for heavy metal toxicity," said study author Dr. Robert B. Saper, director of integrative medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. Saper did the study while at Harvard Medical School.

Ayurveda, which originated in India about 2,000 years ago, combines diet and spirit to heal disease, and includes the use of herbal remedies. About 80 percent of India's population uses Ayurvedic products, and it is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, with one analysis estimating that 750,000 adults had consulted an Ayurvedic practitioner.

Ayurvedic products are among dietary supplements that have come under recent criticism. The products are regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which many people believe to be too lax.

The impetus for the current study came from a patient at who was admitted not too long ago to a Boston hospital with intractable seizures. Tests showed his blood lead level to be 89 (the normal level for adults is less than 2). Interviews with the family revealed that the man, an Indian-born professional in his 50s, had been taking Guggulu, an Ayurvedic arthritis medicine, for the past six years. The product was then analyzed and found to have very high levels of lead, mercury and arsenic.

Saper then scoured the medical literature and found, since 1978, more than 50 published accounts of heavy metal poisoning in infants, children and adults associated with Ayurvedic medicine. The cases occurred in various countries and included the death of an infant, congenital paralysis, deafness and mental retardation.

This led Saper to conduct his own study. Along with his colleagues, he identified every store within a 20-mile radius of Boston City Hall that sold Ayurvedic herbal medicine products made in South Asia. Between April and October 2003, they visited each of these stores and purchased all that were intended for oral consumption. In all, 70 different products were purchased and then tested at the New England Environmental Protection Agency lab.

Overall, 14 of the 70 products contained lead, mercury or arsenic, or more than one. Thirteen products contained lead, six contained mercury, and six contained arsenic. "Moreover, half of the products that contained heavy metals had labels recommending their use for infants and children," Saper added.

Twenty-four of the 30 stores visited sold at least one Ayurvedic product containing a heavy metal.

It's not clear if these results can be generalized to all Ayurvedic products for sale in the United States. "It's very possibly that most of these products are from ethnic Indian grocery stores and not found in mass distribution," said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council.

It's also not clear why the heavy metals have found their way into these products, although two possibilities include accidental contamination during the manufacturing process or intentional inclusion.

The authors of the study called for mandatory testing of all such products. "This study points to the need for Congress to pass regulations that make heavy metal testing mandatory for all dietary supplements, including Ayurvedic products," Saper said.

Blumenthal noted the DSHEA already has provisions for new good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for dietary supplements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to publish the final rules soon.

"The contamination issue is a result of poor manufacturing practices, most of which can be dealt with when new FDA GMPs are finally published and enforced," Blumenthal said. "They'll take one, two or three years to go into effect, based on whether it is a small, medium or large firm."

As mentioned, some Ayurvedic potions contain heavy metals, e.g. bhasmas (?) made from the ash of burnt metals. I think even ACBSP was taking sanjivani or some other formula containing mercury. The article mentions someone taking guggul, which is a resin from a myrrh-like tree. Who knows how it was collected and processed? Deliberate adulteration to meet market demand or sloppy, substandard processing are obvious factors.

nabadip - Mon, 30 May 2005 17:23:26 +0530
IMA challenges 'fish medicine'

The Times of India

HYDERABAD: A lingering controversy over the administration of fish medicine to asthma patients every year has taken a new turn with the apex body of physicians deciding to take the government to court for patronizing "unscientific" medicine.

Joining rationalists and scientists opposing the practice, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has decided to issue legal notices to the state government and also file a contempt petition over the government's failure to test the medicine.

The move might deal another blow to the administration of "miracle medicine" in its 160th year on June 8. The Bathina Goud family of the city distributes the medicine to thousands of asthma patients from all over the country and even abroad on the first day of Mrugasira Karti, which, according to the Hindu calendar, heralds the onset of the monsoon. A yellow herbal paste is inserted in the mouth of a three-centimetre-long murrel fish, which is then slipped down the patient's throat.

The Goud family has kept the formula of the medicine a closely guarded secret lest it lose its efficacy. The family claims that in 1845 a holy man passed on the formula of miracle medicine to their great-great-grandfather Veranna Goud, a toddy tapper, on the promise that he would distribute it free of cost and that he would never reveal the formula.

The fish is believed to clear phlegm while passing through the patient's oesophagus, and this provides much-needed relief to someone whose bronchial pipes are blocked from asthma. The Goud family says the medicine can cure asthma if taken for three consecutive years.

However, rationalists, scientists and physicians strongly dispute this claim. This year, the IMA has stepped up its campaign by asking doctor-turned-politician Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy to put an end to the "unethical" practice.

"Laboratory tests of the medicine show that it has steroids, heavy metals, mercury and other ingredients which could be harmful to patients," said C. L. Venkat Rao, honorary secretary of the IMA's Charminar chapter.

"The presence of these steroids and heavy metals can harm kidneys, cause impotency and intestinal and bone marrow damage, apart from many other diseases," he said.

According to Rao, legal notices will be issued to various government departments for wasting Rs.100 million of public money every year on making arrangements for the event.

IMA also plans to file contempt of court petition against the state government for ignoring a Andhra Pradesh High Court directive to conduct an inquiry into the fish medicine and submit a report within six months, Rao added.

The IMA had filed a writ petition in the high court last year challenging the efficacy of the fish medicine and objecting to the state government spending taxpayers' money to make arrangements for those coming to the city to avail the medicine.

The Goud family is unruffled over the controversy.

"Such doubts were raised even in the past but people believe in our medicine and that is why lakhs (millions) of patients take it every year," said Bathina Harinath Goud, the eldest of the Goud brothers.

He ruled out the possibility of their revealing the ingredients of herbal paste.
Kulapavana - Tue, 31 May 2005 17:52:49 +0530
some herbs are collected from roadsides along busy highways where leaded gasoline is still used. plants there are covered with dust containing large quantities (in the percentage range) of lead. when you use such herbs, you poison yourself. herbs from industrial areas can contain a lot of other metals. mercury is commonly used in some countries in anti-fungal paints and coatings. on top of all that, dry herbs for international trade are fumigated with ethylene dibromide (EDB) which is very poisonous and leaves a lot of residue in dry, porous herbs.

I have been making tinctures for 20 years and I completely avoid buying imported herbs for these very reasons.
nabadip - Tue, 31 May 2005 20:19:58 +0530
When I visited a reputable ayurvedic physician in Pune, I got a tour of his production shop; I saw he kept raw herbs in (for India expensive) jute bags that had been used previously for fertilizers and pesticides. It's a pity the ecological awareness is so underdeveloped in these circles.

There should also be a warning on those Chyavana Prash preperations that are sold covered with silver foils...
Kulapavana - Tue, 31 May 2005 21:01:54 +0530
The Bathini Fish Medicine
At First this Bathini Fish Medicine is kept in the mouth of live Murrel Fish (Channa SP/Ophio Cephalus), 2 to 2.5" in size and the same is slipped into the mouth of each patient. The fish is slippery, so there is no problem in swallowing it. This live fish travels, wagging its tail and fins, through the throat and negotiates the phlegm congestion, providing a 100% cure if taken for three years consecutively with the Strict diet being followed according to their Instructions for 45 days.

yeah, man... fish on steroids, struggling trying to spit out the nasty herbal paste, traveling down your throat... that's got to work miracles...