analysis of Ayurvedic medicines (based on a traditional medical system
commonly used in India) purchased via the Internet found that one-fifth
of these products contain toxic levels of lead, mercury or arsenic.
Ayurvedic medicines are used by a majority of India’s 1.1 billion
population and worldwide by people from South Asia, as well as others,
according to background information in the article. “However, since
1978 more than 80 cases of lead poisoning associated with Ayurvedic
medicine use have been reported worldwide,” the authors write.
Ayurvedic medicines are divided into two major types: 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, if properly prepared and administered, are safe and
therapeutic. The prevalence of metals in Ayurvedic medicines sold via
the Internet and in those manufactured in the United States is unknown.
B. Saper, M.D., M.P.H., of Boston University School of Medicine and
Boston Medical Center, and colleagues conducted a study to determine
the prevalence of Ayurvedic medicines available via the Internet
containing detectable lead, mercury, or arsenic and compared the
prevalence of toxic metals between U.S.- and Indian-manufactured
products, and in rasa shastra vs. non–rasa shastra medicines. The
researchers conducted an Internet search using the search terms
Ayurveda and Ayurvedic medicine and identified 673 products, of which
230 Ayurvedic medicines were randomly selected for purchase in August -
October 2005. Country of manufacturer/Web site supplier, rasa shastra
status, and claims of Good Manufacturing Practices were recorded. Metal
concentrations were measured using x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. One
hundred ninety-three of the 230 requested medicines were received and
The researchers found that the prevalence of
metal-containing products was 20.7 percent and that the prevalence of
metals in U.S.-manufactured products was 21.7 percent, compared with
19.5 percent in Indian products. Rasa shastra medicines were more than
twice as likely as non–rasa shastra products to contain detectable
metals and had higher median (midpoint) concentrations of lead and
mercury. Among the metal-containing products, 95 percent were sold by
U.S. Web sites and 75 percent claimed Good Manufacturing Practices. All
metal-containing products exceeded 1 or more standards for acceptable
daily metal intake. “Several Indian-manufactured rasa shastra medicines
could result in lead and/or mercury ingestions 100 to 10,000 times
greater than acceptable limits,” the authors write.
Institute of Medicine report concluded that ‘the regulatory mechanisms
for monitoring the safety of dietary supplements … [should] be revised.
The constraints imposed on FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] with
regard to ensuring the absence of unreasonable risk associated with the
use of dietary supplements make it difficult for the health of the
American public to be adequately protected,” the researchers write.
“New FDA regulations and current Indian policies do not specify any
maximum acceptable concentrations or daily dose limits for metals in
dietary supplements for domestic use. We suggest strictly enforced,
government-mandated daily dose limits for toxic metals in all dietary
supplements and requirements that all manufacturers demonstrate
compliance through independent third-party testing.”
(Source: JAMA. 2008;300:915-923).