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Neuroscience For Kids

Ayurvedic Medicines and Toxic Metals
September 22, 2008

Ayurvedic medicine is a system of therapy that was developed in India more than 2,000 years ago. Unfortunately, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, many Ayurvedic medicines are contaminated by heavy metals that can be dangerous to your health.

To investigate how often heavy metals are found in Ayurvedic medicines, Dr. Robert Saper (Boston University) and his colleagues analyzed the content of 193 Ayurvedic medicines. Each medicine was ordered off of the Internet and then tested for lead, mercury and arsenic.

Of the 193 medicines tested, 40 (20.7%) contained detectable levels of lead, mercury or arsenic. All 40 of these products had enough metal in them to exceed the maximum allowable dose for heavy metal set by state, national or international standards. The number of metal-containing products made in the United States (21.7%) was similar to the number of metal-containing products made in India (19.5%).

Most of the tested medicines (153 of 193 samples; 79.3%) did not contain detectable levels of lead, mercury or arsenic. However, because imported Ayurvedic medicines are sold as dietary supplements, they are regulated by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, but unlike drugs, are not tested for safety. In fact, several cases of lead poisoning have been linked to Ayurvedic medications. The common use of Ayurvedic medicines may pose health risks for millions of people around the world.

Did you know?
  • "Ayurveda" comes from two Sanskrit words: "Ayuh" meaning life and "Veda" meaning knowledge. (Source: Gogtay et al., 2003.)
  • Prehistoric cave drawings used mercury-containing red paint.
  • Ancient Greek cosmetics contained mercury.
  • Chemical symbols: Lead = Pb (from the Latin word for lead, "plumbum"); Mercury = Hg (from the Latin word for mercury, "hydrargyrum," meaning liquid silver); Arsenic = As.
  • Lead poisoning can cause headaches, stomach pain, confusion, memory problems, kidney and neurological damage. Mercury poisoning can cause brain, lung and kidney damage. Arsenic poisoning can damage the gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular system and nervous system.

Reference and further information:

  1. Saper, R.B., Phillips, R.S., Sehgal, A., Khouri, N., Davis, R.B., Paquin, J., Thuppil, V. and Kales, S.N., Lead, mercury, and arsenic in US- and Indian-manufactured Ayurvedic medicines sold via the Internet, JAMA, 300:915-923, 2008.
  2. Heavy Metals Found in Ayurvedic Medicines - from Neuroscience for Kids
  3. Lead and the Nervous System - from Neuroscience for Kids
  4. Mercury and the Nervous System - from Neuroscience for Kids

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