The recent study at Boston university, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has shown that 1 in 5 Indian herbal medicines sold on the internet could be harmful. Toxic metals have been found in ayurvedic medicines from both in India and the US. The research group analysed 193 products and found that 20% of them contained lead, mercury or arsenic, all of which can lead to serious health problems if taken in excess. Indian herbal medicine (aka Ayurveda / Ayervedic medicine) has been used in India for thousands of years, and is starting to become more popular in the West.
Head of research, Dr Robert Saper, reported that although there was evidence that ayurvedic medicine, in the form of herbal medicine, could help treat diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. However, due to lack of regulation and thorough medical trails, there is also a lot of medicine which is likely to have adverse effects.
“But the key thing is we need to separate out what’s helpful and…. what needs to be looked at and perhaps set aside. Our first priority must be the safety of the public. Herbs and supplements with high levels of lead, mercury, and arsenic should not be available for sale on the internet or elsewhere.” Dr Robert Saper, 2008.
The levels of toxic materials in some of the medicines tested were up to 10,000 times higher than acceptable safe levels. According to the study, there are two types of ayurvedic medicines, of which one involves mixing herbs with metals, minerals and gems. Supportors of Indian herbal medicine say that this is perfectly safe when done correctly. However, Dr Saper reports that there had been over 80 reported cases of lead poisoning in the world, directly resulting from Ayuervedic remedies, in the past 30 years. The actual figure could be much higher.
The UK Department of Health has began working to build a new registration system for herbal medicines. Also a change in the law in three years will mean that is will be illegal to sell unlicensed herbal remedies. However, this will not apply to producers of herbal medicines outside the UK.
The side effects of toxic materials in herbal medicines include:
- Severe nausea
- Abdominal pain
- Kidney damage
Although this research only looked at Indian herbal medicines, there have been similar health warnings concerning other herbal medicines, such as Chinese herbal medicine, in the past. One of the main problems is that people can order herbal medicines online without recieving adequate instruction on their use. This can easily lead to an overdose when not administered correctly – there have been cases of kidney failure amongst people taking Chinese herbal medicines. However, that being said, the presence of such toxic metals in medicine is unacceptable. This once again raises the question, do we need herbal medicines at all?.