NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -Traditional Ayurvedic medicines manufactured in the United States and India and sold via the Internet may contain unacceptable levels of lead, mercury or arsenic, researchers warn in a report released Tuesday.
Ayurvedic medicines are used by most of India's 1.1 billion people and worldwide by people from South Asia and other regions. "However, since 1978 more than 80 cases of lead poisoning associated with Ayurvedic medicine use have been reported worldwide," Dr. Robert B. Saper, from Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues note in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
There are two major types of Ayurvedic medicines: herbal-only and rasa shastra, which is an ancient practice of deliberately combining herbs with metals (e.g., mercury, lead, iron, zinc), minerals (e.g., mica) and gems (e.g., pearl). Rasa shastra experts claim that these medicines are safe and therapeutic when properly prepared and administered.
Among 193 Ayurvedic medicines analyzed by Saper's team, the prevalence of metal-containing products was 20.7 percent. The prevalence of metals in American-made Ayurvedic medicines was 21.7 percent, compared with 19.5 percent in Indian-made products.
Rasa shastra medicines were more than twice as likely as non-rasa shastra products to contain detectable metals (40.5 percent vs 17.1 percent) and had higher concentrations of lead and mercury.
"Several Indian-manufactured rasa shastra medicines could result in lead and/or mercury ingestions 100 to 10,000 times greater than acceptable limits," the investigators report.
"Among the metal-containing products, 95 percent were sold by U.S. Web sites and 75 percent claimed Good Manufacturing Practices," the researchers note.
"Current regulations governing the quality of herbal supplements made and sold in the US and India are inadequate," Saper told Reuters Health. "We recommend strictly enforced government-mandated daily dose limits for toxic metals in all dietary supplements. Manufacturers should have to demonstrate compliance with these standards through independent third-party laboratory testing."
"Although the current study focused on Ayurvedic medicines, reports of similar problems with toxic metals in other traditional medicines (e.g. Chinese, Mexican, Middle Eastern) and Western herbal supplements have been reported, Saper noted.
He and his colleagues recommend that Ayurvedic medicine users avoid rasa shastra medicines.
"Products made by members of the American Herbal Product Assn; capsules/liquids/pastes; are less likely to contain toxic metals," Saper said. "Products that have obtained seals of quality approval from Consumer Lab.com and the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) can be assumed to be free of significant levels of toxic metals," he added.