Supplement industry response to heavy metal warnings
Recently two new studies have warned of excessive levels of toxic heavy metals in Ayurvedic herbal medicine products. The latest, in the International Journal of Environment and Health, notes that lead, mercury, arsenic and thallium are turning up in these medicines (the toxic heavy metals are said to be the result of deliberate addition to the medicines and not accidental contamination, as is sometimes claimed) and cases of poisoning are being reported. Earlier, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 20% of these drugs available on the Internet, both American and foreign-made, contain unacceptable levels of toxic metals.
In response, a supplement industry trade group, the American Herbal Products Association, has announced suggested limits for heavy metals in supplement products. It's worth noting that compliance is entirely voluntary, with AHPA members being "encouraged" to report ingredients that might require "different" limits. Disclosure by sellers of excessive metal content to the AHPA is also voluntary, as are label warnings of contents that pose the potential of increased cancer or birth defect risk. Also noteworthy is that the suggested maximum daily intake of lead from these products is 20 times higher than the standard in use in California. Also, while an Ayurvedic medical association has called on both practitioners and consumers to avoid any Ayurvedic products in which heavy metals are deliberately added, the AHPA has not taken this step.
Bottom line for consumers of these drugs who are concerned about heavy metal toxicity - investigate such products carefully and determine whether the supposed benefits outweigh the risks in the current poorly regulated system for overseeing supplements.