An analysis of a sample of Ayurvedic herbal medicine products found that 20 percent contained metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic at levels that could be toxic if taken as directed, according to a study in the December 15 issue of JAMA.
According to background information in the article, approximately 80 percent of Indias one billion population uses Ayurveda, a medical system that originated in India more than 2000 years ago and greatly relies on herbal medicine products (HMPs). Ayurvedas popularity in Western countries has increased. Because Ayurvedic HMPs are marketed as dietary supplements, they are regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which does not require proof of safety or efficacy prior to marketing. Herbs, minerals and metals are used in Ayurvedic HMPs. Recent reports of serious lead poisoning associated with taking Ayurvedic HMPs were the impetus for the current study.
Robert B. Saper, M.D., M.P.H., formerly of Harvard Medical School, Boston, (currently with the Boston University School of Medicine) and colleagues examined Ayurvedic HMPs manufactured in South Asia and sold in Boston-area stores in order to examine their heavy metal content. From April to October 2003, the researchers purchased 70 different Ayurvedic HMPs at stores within 20 miles of Boston City Hall. Concentrations of lead, mercury and arsenic were measured in the samples. The potential amount of daily metal ingestion, estimated by using manufacturers dosage recommendations, was compared to U.S. Pharmacopeia and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulatory standards.
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