Ayurvedic medicine, do the risks outweigh the benefits?
Heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic are traditionally added to herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, and it seems that due to a lack of appropriate quality measures these metals are often found in toxic levels within ayurvedic preparations. All three can cause symptoms such as vomiting, stomach pain and liver problems and are potentially fatal even in small doses.
A 2004 study found such toxic metals in 20% of ayurvedic preparations that were made in South Asia for sale around Boston: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15598...
A 2008 study of more than 230 products found that approximately 20% of remedies (and 40% of rasa shastra medicines) purchased over the Internet from both US and Indian suppliers contained lead, mercury or arsenic: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008... Some had 100 to 10,000 times the recommended safety levels.
It's difficult to pin down the extent of the problem. This New York Times article highlights the difficulty in obtaining accurate statistics for such alternative medicines that are unregulated for safety:
“No one knows the exact numbers of arsenic, mercury or lead poisoning illnesses in the United States related to ayurvedic medicine. Dr. Saper estimated that there have been 80 cases since 1978, but he believes that is just the “tip of the iceberg.” In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 12 cases of lead poisoning associated with ayurvedic products in Texas, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York State and California.” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/18/fashio...
Recently in Australia, the NSW State Health Dept issued a warning on lead poisoning from imported Ayurvedic medicine after a man become extremely ill after months of taking ayurvedic. He was found to have almost nine times the blood lead level of lead considered acceptable: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/news/2010/20100804_01.html
With regards to if the stuff actually even works, The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) reports:
“Most clinical trials (i.e., studies in people) of Ayurvedic approaches have been small, had problems with research designs, lacked appropriate control groups, or had other issues that affected how meaningful the results were. Therefore, scientific evidence for the effectiveness of Ayurvedic practices varies, and more rigorous research is needed to determine which practices are safe and effective.” http://nccam.nih.gov/health/ayurveda/introduction.htm
That’s a diplomatic way of saying the existing studies are crap and Ayurvedic has not been substantiated to be safe or work for any condition.
Is it worth the risk?