Supplement industry response to heavy metal warnings

rusty_blackhaw(6a)November 3, 2008

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.

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oakleif(z6 AR)

Goodness, Sounds like they are taking up the habits of the American Medical System. In other western countrys herbal medicine is regulated along with western medicine. Unlike here they don't let the fox gaurd the henhouse either. Don't forget the heavy metals in our food and water supplys.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2008 at 3:15AM
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"Sounds like they are taking up the habits of the American Medical System."

The "American Medical System" (if by that you mean mainstream medical practice) does not support the deliberate addition to drugs of toxic heavy metals like mercury, lead and thallium, as is common in Ayurvedic medicine. And it's mainstream medical and scientific journals that have revealed this hazard (see above).

Sounds like you're for more effective regulation of herbal medicine. How would you accomplish that?

    Bookmark   November 5, 2008 at 8:27AM
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brendan_of_bonsai(4b AK)

These treatments had been damaging livers and kidneys with out treating any medical condition for hundreds of years before America was even founded, effects do not precede causes.

Also with the exception of imaging (where we have very hard evidence that they are needed) and as a preservative in vaccines heavy metals are not used much in modern medicine. In a very small minority of flu vaccines Ethyl Mercury is used, which the body is very good at removing, not so much with the Mercury that is used in ayervedic medicine.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2008 at 3:49PM
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brendan is correct; it should be noted though that these examples do not involve what we commonly consider to be drugs (i.e. they are not used to treat illnesses). And alternatives are available; for example in the case of flu vaccine, the minute amount of preservative can be avoided entirely if one is concerned about it.

As I noted recently in another thread, answering a concern about a herbal treatment with an attack on mainstream medicine misses the point. Even if we were to believe that evidence-based medicine is the epitome of Evil, it wouldn't relieve herbalism of the obligation to provide safe and effective remedies.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2008 at 5:04PM
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