A new study found that Ayurvedic medicines made in the United States and India and sold on the Internet may contain unacceptable levels of harmful metals, including lead, mercury and arsenic.
Ayurvedic medicines are commonly used, especially in India. There are two main types of Ayurvedic medicines: herbal formulas and rasa shastra, which is a combination of herbs and metals, minerals and/or gems. While rasa shastra may include metals like iron, lead, mercury or zinc, experts claim they are safe when properly prepared and administered.
Researchers, led by Robert B. Saper, MD, MPH, from Osher Institute at Harvard Medical School in Boston, visited 25 different Web sites and identified 673 Ayurvedic oral medicines made in the United States and India that were available for sale. Researchers randomly purchased 230 of these products from August through October 2005. They then tested the 193 medicines they received for metallic poisons.
The authors found that 20.7 percent of the medicines had detectable levels of one or metals, and at least 50 percent of those exceeded the established exposure levels. Of the rasa shastra medicines, 40.5 percent contained detectable levels of metals, compared to 17.1 percent of herbal-only formulas. The rasa shastra medicines also had higher concentrations of mercury and lead.
Metal toxicity has been associated with Ayurvedic medicines in the past. More than 80 cases of lead poisoning worldwide have been linked to Ayurvedic medicine. In 2003, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a total of 12 cases of lead poisoning among adults in five states were associated with Ayurvedic medicines from 2000 to 2003.
Consumers are encouraged to use Ayurvedic herbs cautiously. Products that have seals of quality approval from the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) and ConsumerLab.com have been tested and should not contain unacceptable levels of harmful metals.