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High concentration of heavy metals in Herbal medicines

Everything I eat has been proved by some doctor or other to be a deadly poison, and everything I don't eat// has been proved to be indispensable for life. But I go marching on. -George Bernard Shaw

The human body is designed to function at an optimal range possible to preserve the health of an individual. Every cell (Eg. liver cell, a brain cell, a bone cell, etc) in our body is programmed to perform a specific function. And along with this, detoxifying is part of the nature of every cell as well.

The cell however, cannot function on it’s own. It is dependent on certain enzymes, metal and other such compounds. Metals such as aluminum, beryllium, cadmium, lead and mercury have no none biological function. Arsenic, copper, iron, nickel are necessary at low concentrations. However, at high levels of accumulation, they are capable of causing serious health problems.

Heavy metals disrupt metabolic function in two basic ways. First, they accumulate and thereby disrupt function in vital organs and glands such as the heart, brain, kidneys, bone, liver, etc. Secondly, they displace vital nutritional minerals from their original place thereby, hindering biological function. It is however impossible to live in an environment free of heavy metals. There are many ways by which these toxins can be absorbed into the body such as consumption of foods, beverages, skin exposure and the inhaled air.

The recent reports of high concentration of heavy metals in ayurvedic or herbal preparations have raised much concern and controversy. According to a study that has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), one of five Ayurvedic herbal medical products (HMPs), produced in South Asia contains potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury, and/or arsenic. Furthermore, the herbal products are marketed as dietary supplements and therefore do not require proof of safety or efficacy prior to their marketing.

The science of Ayurveda originated in India more than 5000 years ago and relies heavily on herbal medicine products. In the United States, Ayurvedic remedies have increased in popularity in the recent years. It has been established that 14 of the 70 HMPs contains high levels of potentially dangerous heavy metals. Infact, several of the HMPs could result in lead and arsenic intakes of 1,000 to 10,000 times greater than the regulatory standards.

It has now been made mandatory that all herbal products should be tested for their heavy metal content prior to export. The notification has been issued by the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. All labels would be required to specify the heavy metal content and indicate clearly that 'heavy metals within permissible limits'. The move is expected to ensure better quality control of the herbal products exported from India and is likely to be extended to the Indian drug market as well.

Medindia on Ayurveda: The practical fields of Ayurveda are divided into eight sections or branches. These sections are: internal medicinal, surgery, cranial organo medicine, pediatrics, toxicology, rejuvenating remedy, aprodisiac remedy and spiritual healing. These eight sections are called 'Astanga Ayurveda'
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