Heavy metals in Ayurvedic formulations a major concern
August 23, 2017 / Posted by Dr. Virender Sodhi, MD (Ayurveda), ND
Ayurvedic medicine has become quite popular in the West. There are many Ayurvedic formulations available in the United States from South Asian markets, health food stores, Ayurvedic practitioners, and on the Internet (Saper, et al., 2004). Approximately 40% to 60% of the Ayurvedic products from India contain heavy metals. As an Ayurvedic physician, I know how critical it is to have high-quality products for the health of my patients. It is a matter of deep concern that many Ayurvedic supplements found in native India and around the world are contaminated with heavy metals.
Ayurvedic medicine in India considered heavy metals to have therapeutic advantage, and hence, the use of heavy metals in the treatment of certain diseases is actually encouraged. There is a branch of Ayurveda called Ras Shastra. In Ras Shastra, various preparations are made using mercury, sulphur and various other metals like lead, tin, arsenic, gold, silver, zinc, copper, and other metals. The method of the preparation of these preparations is very unique, long, and a pain taking process. Various metals and herbs are mixed and burned many times. This method makes metals into nano-particles and with herb molecules attached. Lately, the methods were compensated, and preparations were not of the best quality. If the preparations are not prepared properly, then they become toxic. Many of them are used in the treatment of chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis, infertility, digestive disorders like gastritis and ulcerative colitis, inflammatory diseases, psoriasis, eczema, depression, cancer, tuberculosis, hormonal issues, and more.
In a paper published in 2015, scientists reported that 40% of the 115 people in the study using Ayurvedic supplements had lead poisoning. In 2011 and 2012, a group of pregnant women got severe lead poisoning from taking Ayurvedic herbs in New York, and two children got lead poisoning in 2012 (Chen, 2015). Between 2000 and 2003, there were a total of 12 adult cases of lead poisoning associated with Ayurvedic medications reported to the CDC in the United States. The FDA has recommended a maximum level of 0.1 ppm of lead for candy. It is worth noting that lead content has ranged from 0.4 to 261,200 ppm in certain common Ayurvedic preparations. Some of the symptoms of lead toxicity include: fatigue, abdominal pain, headache, decreased libido, irritability, and neurological dysfunction (CDC, 2004). Lead toxicity associated with the use of Ayurvedic remedies can lead to status epilepticus, fatal infant encephalopathy, congenital paralysis, sensori-neural deafness, and developmental delay (Saper, et al., 2004). Heavy metals like lead can damage the nervous system and brain permanently, and they can even cause death in high doses.
In 2003, an investigation was conducted in the United States. The goal of the study was to determine the prevalence and concentration of heavy metals in Ayurvedic herbs. Researchers in Boston went to every Indian market within 20 miles between April and October 2003, and they collected every Ayurvedic herbal product they could find. They discovered that one of five Ayurvedic supplements contained harmful levels of lead, mercury, and/or arsenic. They concluded that those who use Ayurvedic medicines might be at risk for heavy metal toxicity, and testing of Ayurvedic herbs for lethal heavy metals ought to be required (Saper, et al., 2004).
Ayurvedic lead poisoning is an under-recognized global problem. A national survey conducted in the United States found out that women using Ayurvedic herbs had lead levels 24% higher than non-users (Buettner, et al., 2009). Experts say that 35% to 40% of Ayurvedic remedies contain at least one metal. There are metals in 30% to 65% of Ayurvedic supplements sold outside the United States. Usually, the diagnosis is lead poisoning, which is often found via evaluating anemia. A study published in 2007 found out that those suffering from toxicity in blood from lead-containing Ayurvedic medications were undergoing greater toxicity than lead paint-removal poisoning. The researchers studied 66 adult lead intoxications: 43 published Ayurvedic case studies from MEDLINE between 1966 and 2005; 4 Ayurvedic patients seen at a referral center; 19 lead paint intoxications from the identical center. It was concluded that ingestion of Ayurvedic herbs should be considered in patients with anemia. The users of Ayurvedic supplements should be screened for lead exposure and must discontinue herbs containing heavy metals (Kales, Christophi, & Saper, 2007).
A 2011 assessment examined various Ayurvedic herbs for testing of heavy metals. Common Ayurvedic herbs, Emblica officinalis (Amla), Terminalia chebula (Harad), Terminalia bellirica (Bahera), and Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha), were collected from local market and tested. Four heavy metals were found in the herbs, including: Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury. (Rao, KumarMeena, & Galib, 2011).
Story of Ayush Herbs
In 1988, I graduated from Bastyr University, and I thought it will be a good idea to introduce Ayurvedic herbs to USA market. Along with my brothers, I founded Ayush Herbs. I contacted leading Ayurvedic medicine manufacturers in India. On arrival of the product, FDA inspected and found that all the products have heavy metals, contamination with pigeon poop, mouse excreta and bacteriological count which was unfit for human use, and we were ordered to destroy the shipment. It is then when I decided to grow our own herbs.
The herbs are grown in the pristine Himachal Pradesh region of the Himalayas (where indigenous plants have been used in centuries of Ayurvedic tradition) and then extracted with latest technology. We provide uncontaminated, unadulterated herbal products that represent quality and purity for the sake of our customers, patients, and families. We unite the ancient principles of Ayurveda with recent scientific technology to provide the highest quality herbal supplements.
We perform triple testing on our products to make sure there are no harmful levels of heavy metals in them. We believe in maintaining the highest quality control standards in the herbal supplement industry. We provide the best that mother nature has to offer. I am proud to announce that every product we offer is free of heavy metals and contaminants, and is of superior quality from start to finish. We have been recognized by American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and given corporate of the year award in 2013. This award is given to folks, who have proven track record for highest standards in supplements and worked to enhance the knowledge about natural medicine. Do not buy any product from internet unless you really know the brand. Keep in mind higher standard supplements will be more expensive.
- Buettner, C., Mukamal, K., Gardiner, P., Davis, R., Phillips, R., & Mittleman, M. (2009, November). Herbal Supplement Use and Blood Lead Levels of United States Adults. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 24(11), 1175-1182.
- CDC. (2004, July 9). MMWR Weekly. Retrieved from Lead Poisoning Associated with Ayurvedic Medications – Five States, 2000-2003
- Chen, A. (2015, July 31). Health News from NPR. Retrieved from Toxic Lead Contaminates Some Traditional Ayurvedic Medicines
- Kales, S. N., Christophi, C. A., & Saper, R. B. (2007, July). Hematopoietic toxicity from lead-containing Ayurvedic medications. Medical Science Monitor, 13(7), CR295-CR298.
- Rao, M. M., KumarMeena, A., & Galib. (2011, October). Detection of toxic heavy metals and pesticide residue in herbal plants which are commonly used in the herbal formulations. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 181(1-4), 267-271.
- Saper, R. B., Kales, S. N., Paquin, J., Burns, M. J., Eisenberg, D. M., Davis, R. B., & Phillips, R. S. (2004, December). Heavy Metal Content of Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine Products. JAMA, 2868-2873.