A new study says around twenty per cent of ayurvedic products purchased through the internet have significant levels of arsenic, lead and mercury.
The results are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Lead study author Dr Robert Saper from the Boston University School of Medicine, said products made in the US were more likely to exhibit the heavy metals than those made in India, where ayurvedic medicine was first developed over a thousand years ago.
"We randomly purchased 193 traditional Indian (ayurvedic) medicine products from the Internet. About 60 percent were from U.S. companies and 40 percent from Indian companies. Twenty-one percent had significant levels of lead, mercury and arsenic," Dr Saper said to Medline Plus.
High levels can be toxic.
Ayurvedic medicine involves eight branches or ashtanga including internal medicine, surgery, paediatrics, toxicology, ears-eyes-nose-and-throat, rejuvenation and fertility therapy. These can involve special diets, yoga, massage and more.
Herbal medicines combined with the aforementioned metals and gems such as pearls are known as rasa shastra, which proponents say are used as anti-microbials and anti-cancer agents similar to how cisplatin or silver are used in western medicine.
In rasa shastra it is argued that the metals are elaborately processed to oxides, salts and ashes without the same biological activity as the more active, unprocessed compounds.
Dr Saper however, argued to Medline Plus that while, "many traditional Indian practitioners believe quite strongly that if rasa shastra is done correctly, it is safe," he feels the practices should be "seriously called into question."
He doesn't believe in deliberately ingesting lead, mercury or arsenic.
Around 41 per cent of the rasa shastra products surveyed had higher levels of the metals, which the researchers say, “could result in lead and/or mercury ingestions 100 to 10,000 times greater than acceptable limits," reports Medline Plus.
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