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September 04, 2008

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Ayurvedic medicine is valuable to people of all ages because of the holistic nature and philosophy of treating the root cause of symptoms. It is sensible to perform some research and choose a therapist who is either a member of, or accredited by, an association or professional body. Ayurvedic practitioners are constrained to a code of ethics and process that finds out the therapy is carried out in a appropriate and safe environment.

This is alarming, and there are so many like me who are merely lay man in this area and know nothing of the sort!!! Good post, I say.

According to the article, Ayurvedic medications have the potential to be toxic since most of them contain lead, mercury and arsenic. Many materials used in them have not been thoroughly studied in either Western or Indian research. In the United States, Ayurvedic medications are regulated as dietary supplements. As such, they are not required to meet the safety and efficacy standards for conventional medicines. So it is best to use Ayurvedic remedies under the supervision of an Ayurvedic medicine practitioner than to try to treat yourself if you prefer the home remedies over conventional therapy.

It is interesting that this is “new” information. The Ayurvedic medicines studied were all purchased prior to 2006 when new legislation in India required that all Ayurvedic, Unani and Siddha medicines that are exported undergo testing for heavy metal contamination and include ingredient labeling. Perhaps this study should be repeated now to see if this change in law has resulted in a change in contamination.

So many consumers use herbal products or these rasa shastra Ayurvedic medicines that may not have labeling for the ingredients and content amount. The concern for metal toxicity in these products is high, but how can we communicate across cultures (not language) and traditions to educate people about the dangers of using products that we are unsure of its contents? Consumers do not have the equipment to test for these metals, but have only their bodies to test for these toxicities and that is not the right equipment! I wish there was more public education for consumers to caution their use of these products and if they insist on using these products, to please purchase those with USP- and consumerlab.com-approved labels.

That is an interesting comment that Charles made; I didn't realize that prescription products could be found in erectile dysfunction medications. Regulation of the ingredients in dietary supplements is definitely warranted. I wonder how many errors will need to occur before government regulation of these products is put into place.

The high incidence of heavy metal contamination found in traditional Indian-Chinese medicine is very alarming. People are not aware of the harmful and toxic effects those heavy metals can have on their bodies and their irreversible consequences. I think our main roll is to advise these people to be more conscious when they buy these products.

I agree with Liz that heavy metal testing should be done on herbal supplements. To add to her point about “fake drugs” and safety concerns of herbs and drugs being sold around the world, I saw on the news that certain erectile dysfunction herbal supplements bought on the Internet actually contain prescription drugs inside. Small amounts of sildenafil, tadalefil and vardenafil (Viagra®, Cialis® and Levitra®, respectively) were found in certain ED herbal supplements. This can be very dangerous for patients taking other nitrate drugs, such as nitroglycerine or isosorbide mononitrate (Imdur®), since it may cause a dramatic drop in blood pressure.

I was wondering what exactly happens during mercury poisoning? Here is some information I found: Mercury poisoning (also known as mercurialism, hydrargyria, Hunter-Russell syndrome, or acrodynia when affecting children) is a disease caused by exposure to mercury or its toxic compounds. Mercury is a cumulative heavy metal poison that occurs in its elemental form, inorganically as salts, or organically as organomercury compounds. The three groups vary in effects due to differences in their absorption and metabolism, among other factors.

However, with sufficient exposure, all mercury-based toxic compounds damage the central nervous system and other organs or organ systems such as the liver or gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms typically include sensory impairment (vision, hearing, speech), disturbed sensations and a lack of coordination. The type and degree of symptoms exhibited depend on the individual toxin, the dose and the method and duration of exposure.

Does anyone know which brands of Ayurvedic products are suspected of containing these heavy metals? I would be interested in trying Ayurvedic medicine if I knew which ones were better to use. I noticed that there is some mention of products that may be approved by the USP. Are there any specific diseases that Ayurvedic medications treat better than modern treatments?

As healthcare professionals, we need to know that we have to be careful where we buy our herbs from. We have no idea what type of harmful components could be mixed into these herbs, so they need to be used cautiously.

It is well known that rasa shastra Ayurveydic medicines are likely to contain heavy metals, including mercury and lead, and should be used cautiously, if at all. It is not clear if any herbal Ayerveydic medicine tested in this article exceeded the established exposure level for any heavy metal. Some heavy metals, such as iron and zinc, are found in some Ayurvedic herbal medicine, but these metals are important in diets and are not toxic when used in low levels. It also is not clear whether the herbal Ayurveydic medicines tested in this study did or did not have quality-approval seals.

Although this is certainly discerning, it is important to remember that Ayurvedic medicines are not the only products we consume with unacceptable levels of metals. High mercury levels are often found in the fish we eat. Canned foods are also associated with higher metal levels. High levels of metals in consumed products are dangerous, and it would be beneficial to the public if the FDA regulated these levels more closely than they currently do.

Researchers at Boston and Harvard universities studied more than 70 Ayurvedic herbal products that were sold in stores in the greater Boston area. They found that 20 percent of the pills, powders and other products contained enough lead, mercury and arsenic to be toxic if used as directed. Seven of the 14 products that contained dangerous amounts of heavy metals were specifically recommended for pediatric us.

I'm just wondering about the different necessary spices that we use in our food. In our culture we use a lot. There should be mandatory testing forthese harmful metals!!!


From the Ayurvedic medicine, the rasa shastra medicine has been found to contain heavy metals. The heavy metals are added to the herbs for treating certain ailments, however, depending on the concentration it could lead to other health issues and toxicities. In some products, contamination is due to plants being cultivated on contaminated soil and water. I think metal testing should be required before putting a product on the market. Heavy metal contamination is not limited to Ayurvedic medicine. Recently, fake drugs (1 in 3 counterfeit) which sometimes contain toxic substances such as boric acid, heavy metals, road paint and floor wax was reported to being sold around the world posing as potentially wide spread serious health issues.

This article confirms the need to educate the public about the potential risks that could be associated with the use of dietary supplements and the need to obtain supplements from reputable suppliers that adhere to strict quality-control guidelines. Ayurvedic medications are regulated as dietary supplements. As such, they are not required to meet the safety and efficacy standards for conventional medicines.

I agree with the researchers’ suggestion that observational studies should be done to assess the lead burden, as well as other heavy metals and consequences resulting from use of these medications. I also agree with their suggestion that government-mandated, daily-dose limits for toxic metals in all dietary supplements should be created and that all manufacturers demonstrate compliance through third-party testing. To ignore this while knowing the results and potential health risks of this study is inexcusable. If the public chooses to use these types of remedies, especially rasa shasta, then they need to be educated and understand that it is better to use these types of remedies under the supervision of experienced Ayurvedic practitioners and choose herbs that have seals of quality approval.

Rasa shastra can also be practiced with minerals (like mica) and gems (like pearls) in addition to heavy metals (like lead and mercury). The term Rasa shastra literally means “science of mercury.” By heating and incinerating the metals, detoxification of the metals theoretically occurs, resulting in therapeutic value.

Since it is recommended to look for the USP seal of quality on products, I was curious as to what exactly USP is testing for in order to ensure that there aren’t harmful levels of metals in the products. This is what I found:

USP conducts a rigorous process of tests and reviews before awarding the USP Verified Mark to a dietary supplement that a manufacturer voluntarily submits for verification. The process includes the following steps: Experienced USP scientists test supplement products to ensure that they meet USP standards for quality, purity, and potency; USP audits the supplement manufacturer's facilities, practices, records and quality-control measures; USP tests marketplace samples of verified products to ensure that they continue to retain ingredient strength and stability over their shelf life and USP reviews supplement labels to ensure that the ingredients are properly listed and that appropriate dosage information and warnings/cautions/counter-indications are featured.

Ayurveda is an ancient system that includes medicines, meditation, exercise and dietary guidelines practiced by millions of adherents on the Indian subcontinent and increasingly in the West.

The National Library of Ayurveda Medicine (NLAM) is attempting a project with the objective of standardizing Ayurveda medicine. The NLAM repository explains in detail the preparation methods of various Ayurveda formulations using standard terms. It gives brief explanation and co-relation of plants, minerals, metals and gemstones (also known as Ratnagarbhas) used as ingredients in Ayurveda medicine. The NLAM digital library / database is being developed per the following guidelines. It has been divided into three active phases of development and is in phase one as of 2008.

One must always be cautious when buying things on the Internet, from herbs to food to electronics. Always know where your product is coming from, and be sure they are a reputable provider of your service or good. This article is concerning because mercury and lead can be harmful to the body in many ways.

I guess the lesson from this is that a lot of medicines can be unsafe. Even Western medicines have their impurities. Take for example the recent chondroitin contamination of heparin. At least there are quality assurance measures in place to allow for recalls of adulterated medications. Perhaps the take-home message is that there can be a lot of uncertainty in product quality, regardless of medical beliefs, and there should be less bias against differing medical practices.

Stephanie C. mentioned Chinese Pao Zhi. This process involves altering properties of crude medicines or herbs by roasting, honey frying, wine frying, earth frying, vinegar frying or by other means. Frying in different fluids is believed to change the herb a certain way. For instance, wine frying is believed to enhance circulatory properties of herbs, while salt frying is believed to draw the herbs to the renal system.

Ayurveda is based on the idea of balancing the body. Sickness and specific disease conditions are thought to be symptoms of imbalance within the body. Ayurveda does not disregard the symptoms of the disease state; however, it is more focused on the origin of the problem, which is from the imbalance.

The technique to reduce toxic components that Sal mentioned is called samskaras. It is a technique of detoxification applied to heavy metals and toxic herbs, which is similar to the Chinese pao zhi, although the Ayurvedic technique is more complex and may involve prayers, as well as physical pharmacy techniques. The described detoxification is a simple chemical process that involves four successive rounds of boiling the crude Aconitum root in cow's urine (twice) and cow's milk (twice). This process is claimed to chemically modify both toxic and proposed therapeutic components of the root. It also extracts some of these compounds from the root into the boiling solvents, thereby decreasing their concentration in the final product.

Ayurveda is a very interesting practice. There are more than 20 types of treatment, including pranayama (breathing exercises), abhyanga (rubbing the skin with herbalized oil), rasayana (mantras or repeated words and phrases during meditation with specific herbs), yoga, pancha karma (cleansing the body by inducing sweat, bowel movements, and even vomiting) and herbal medicines. The goal of these practices is to prevent illnesses before they occur.

There are ways in which Ayurvedic medicines are to be prepared, which supposedly reduces toxic components to supposedly negligible levels. Ayurvedic medicine that contains toxic herbs or heavy metals, for example, is repeatedly boiled in cow urine and cow milk in four successive sessions. This process is called Samskaras. I don’t see how boiling metals in cow urine and milk will make the metal less toxic, however.

Harold brings up a good point. Having Ayurvedic medicines third-party tested would at least reassure the consumer to a certain extent of the product accuracy and safety. Third-party testers are organizations that test and analyze the ingredients in products (herbals, vitamins, minerals, and in this case, Ayurvedic medicines) to determine if claims of identity, strength, purity and availability stated on labels is actually what the product contains. Third-party testers are often non-governmental and not-for-profit so that they may provide independent, unbiased, conflict-of-interest-free results. Select reliable third-party testers include: Consumer Lab, Consumer Reports and Natural Products Association.

I personally have never used Ayurvedic medicine before, but the study results are frightening. In 2004, 31,000 people in the United States were surveyed as to if they had used Ayurveda. 0.4% had used it in the past, and 0.1% had used it in the last year. The Ayurvedic treatment plan does not just include herbs; it also uses meditation, diet, yoga, massage, cleansing and detoxifications, and exercise. Unfortunately, there is no national standard for certification of practitioners in the United States.

In response to Jackie, it’s up to the manufacturer of herbals/supplements (products that have "Supplement Facts" on the back) if they are willing to be inspected by the FDA to reach Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards. Not all companies are willing to do this, but the ones who pass inspections are granted USP status. Alternatively, all medications labeled as Drugs (prescription meds, and those OTCs containing "Drug Facts" on the back) must pass GMP standards. All products that pass have been assessed for purity, potency and the stated strength. To sum it up - look for the USP on the label of herbals and supplements.

It is important to know that many of the herbal supplements that are sold online and even at stores are not FDA regulated. Many supplements may have certification such as NSF or USP, but that still does not mean that quality assurance tests have been performed. Companies that manufacture supplements should be researched and third-party tested for true quality assurance. Many supplements do not have the actual amount of active ingredient claimed on the label and may have microbes that could lead to infections. There are several Web sites out there testing these supplements.

It is unclear whether the heavy metals found in the Ayurvedic medicines are from the actual plant themselves or if they were added into the dietary supplements during the manufacturing process. In Ayurvedic medicine, metals are considered an important part of therapy and treatment. Hopefully, these metals are not intentionally added to the supplements. This scares me that there are supplements out there that are marketed as medicinal but are poisonous. It is also known that certain TCMs (traditional Chinese medicines) also contain heavy metals at unsafe levels. Buyer beware!

Does anyone know if Ayurvedic treatments are tested by verification programs like USP and Consumer Lab, or is that just for conventional single- and multiple-ingredient supplements? I could not find this information on their Web sites.

Here’s a brief background on Ayurveda: Ayurveda is the most ancient of the Indian systems of medicine. The word “Ayurveda” is a tatpurusha compound of the word āyus meaning “life,” and the word veda, which refers to a system of “knowledge.” Thus, “Ayurveda” roughly translates into the “wisdom for living.” It teaches that vital energy, referred to as prana, is the basis of all life and healing. Ayurveda gives the highest priority to prevention, health promotion, and enhancement. When illness is present, however, it offers a complete system for treatment. The overall goal is always to foster balance and harmony among the doshas and to purify and harmonize the entire mind/body system. An important principle in Ayurveda is that "there is nothing in the world that is not a medicine or food."

People do need to be careful about the medicines they ingest. I am shocked by the number of lead poisonings associated with Ayurvedic medications, but I do agree with Anjali, in that it reflects more on how these medications are made and distributed and not just the effects of using Ayurvedic treatments.

This to me, this is just another example of how dangerous the Internet is and can be. I have read many stories of people buying prescription medications on the Internet from "Canada” and then receiving a package in the mail from a South American country. It is very sad that this happens. Some of these Web sites even have USA in the domain name. One can only hope that people will use good judgment before purchasing anything online, prescription or over-the-counter.

There are far too many horror stories about the toxic effects of lead inhaled or ingested by children via household paint or toys/jewelry. Given this, it’s surprising and disturbing to see that someone who is trying to do something healthy could stumble into trouble this way. Hopefully, people will do their research on reputable Web sites and speak to professionals about various types of CAM before they start blindly taking substances ordered on the Internet.

It is first important to note that any prepackaged product, be it medicine or even food, can contain a range of harmful additives or dangerous compounds. It is most unfortunate that this controversy has been the big issue to draw attention to Ayurvedic medicines. People must be made to know that the most valuable practices in Ayurveda do not include the ingestion of such products, but involve a daily routine of diet, exercise, and cleansing. Taking foods and medicines closest to their whole natural form ensures maximum nutritional availability and purity. Plus, with a little effort, it is quite easy to incorporate Ayurvedic herbs into a healing regimen without buying questionable products! Get the introductory book by Lad or Frawley and you'll be surprised how easy it is to implement the ancient health promoting practices of Ayurveda.

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