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Environmental Health Division
Metal Toxicity from Ayurvedic Medications
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine that has been practiced for thousands of years. It promotes balance among body, mind, spirit, and the environment. People who practice Ayurveda often use herbal compounds (Ayurvedic medicines) to treat ailments and promote health.
Heavy metal poisoning from Ayurvedic medicines
Some Ayurvedic medicines and other traditional medicines may contain harmful heavy metals. A recent study found that one out of every five Ayurvedic medications purchased online contained lead, mercury, or arsenic. In recent years, several children of Indian decent in Minnesota have had high levels of lead or mercury in their blood that were traced back to Ayurvedic medicine.
Who is most at risk of heavy metal poisoning
Heavy metals are most harmful to young children because their bodies and brains are still growing and developing. Pregnant women and their developing fetuses may also be at higher risk. Possible symptoms of heavy metal poisoning include:
- Learning and behavior problems
- Kidney and liver damage
Very high blood lead levels can cause serious brain damage, convulsions, coma and even death. Low doses of heavy metals may not cause any outward signs but may be harming the body.
Blood tests are available for metals to see if you have been exposed. Visit your primary care doctor or local clinic to get tested.
Why heavy metals are found in Ayurvedic medications
Some Ayurvedic products contain heavy metals because of their possible healing effects on the body. For example:
- Small amounts of lead may calm the stomach.
- Arsenic can be used to treat some types of cancer (but may also cause skin, lung and bladder cancer).
- Because mercury is toxic, it has been used to kill bacteria.
Some herbs are unintentionally grown in contaminated soil or processed with equipment that introduces metal into the product. Even tiny amounts of lead, mercury, and arsenic can harm the body. Claims that they can be "detoxified" are not supported by research.
Keeping your family healthy
If you are using Ayurvedic medicines, MDH recommends that you:
- Talk to your health care provider about the herbs or Ayurvedic medications you are taking.
- Show your health care provider any medicines you are taking (including the labels).
- Think carefully about each herbal medicine and whether it is working for you.
- Know the ingredients of any herbal medicines you take, and make certain you can trust that the product does not contain lead, arsenic or mercury.
- Be especially careful about any medications given to young children and pregnant women.
- Maintain balance through methods that work for you, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, and maintaining relationships.
These products are often produced without regulatory oversight, so consumers have to decide whether to use them or not without complete safety information.
If you have symptoms that concern you, contact:
- The Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222)
- A medical toxicologist
- Your health care provider