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Occupational & Environmental Epidemiology

Ayurvedic Products and Heavy Metal Poisoning

Ayurvedic medicine is a traditional or alternative system of healing, originating in India. Ayurvedic medicine uses spices, vitamins, minerals and herbs that are sometimes mixed with metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and zinc. Ayurvedic medicines are used for a variety of different conditions to include fertility, pain control and chronic health problems such as heart disease and cancer. These products can be typically found on the Internet or in specialty ethnic stores. Some health stores in the United States sell these products as well. Some consumers may buy the products overseas and bring back to the United States. Ayruvedics are becoming more popular across different cultures as a natural form of healthcare and are sometimes marketed under "alternative medicines" or "new age practices."

The presence of metals in some Ayurvedic products makes them potentially harmful to humans. They are poisonous to the body depending on the level.  Pregnant women and children are especially at risk because certain metals, such as lead, can adversely affect normal fetal growth and development. Studies have found that many Ayurvedic products contain lead and other metals such as mercury and arsenic. Some products contain levels that exceed maximum tolerable daily intake.  Persons consuming these types of medicines are at risk for heavy metal poisoning. Symptoms of lead poisoning can vary in each adult but can include: abdominal pain, fatigue, decreased sex drive; headache, irritability, muscle aches and changes in the nervous system. Please consult a healthcare professional for more information.

Consumers should be cautious in using Ayurvedic medications because of possible contamination with metals.  While reading drug labels usually provides guidance on ingredients contained in the product, heavy metals might not be listed as ingredients on the Ayurvedic brands and might only be identified by laboratory testing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides the following consumer advice:

  • Ayurvedic products are not reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration so safety cannot be assured.
  • Exhibit caution when buying medical products on the Internet and beware of unregulated drug sellers.
  • Consult your healthcare provider about all alternative products you are taking or may take.

Health care providers: resources to treat adult lead poisoning are available on the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics website External link or call Carolinas Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

References

U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  Use Caution With Ayurvedic Products. External link FDA Consumer Health Information.

CDC. Lead poisonig in pregnant women who used ayurvedic medications from India – New York City, 2011-2012 MMWR August 24, 2012/61 (33);641 – 646.

National Health Institute. Study Shows One-Fifth of Internet-Available Ayurvedic Medicines Contain Toxic Metals External link

Saper RB, Phillips RS, Sehgal A, et al. Lead, mercury, and arsenic in U.S. and Indian-manufactured Ayurvedic medicines sold via the Internet. External link Journal of the American Medical Association. 2008; 300(8):915–923.

For Additional Information