JAMA Article Finds Heavy Metals in Ayurvedic Products

(Silver Spring, MD) -- An article to be published in the December 15, 2004, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that 20 percent of Ayurvedic “herbal” medicines made in India or Pakistan and sold in South Asian grocery stores in the Boston area contain “potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury and/or arsenic.”(1) The authors fail to clarify, however, that many of these products contain non-herbal ingredients, such as sulfide of mercury, which no doubt accounts for the high levels of heavy metals detected in these imported products. One product, for example, was found to contain more than 10 percent mercury, and four others were noted to exceed one percent of total heavy metals.

Many traditional Ayurvedic formulas that are sold in India contain metallic ingredients for purported health benefits, though those with high levels of these are generally used under practitioner supervision. The use of such ingredients in dietary supplements marketed in the United States is not allowed, however, as the presence of lead, mercury, and arsenic at levels that cause dietary supplements or foods to be adulterated are unlawful under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), and have been unlawful under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act since 1938 (and even under the Pure Food and Drug Act since 1906).

Oddly, the JAMA article both correctly notes that “regulations governing dietary supplements … should also be applied to dietary supplements imported into the United States,” and, in the very next sentence, calls for “reform of DSHEA” to require mandatory testing of all imported dietary supplements for toxic heavy metals. As noted above, however, U.S. law already makes it unlawful to import or sell products that are adulterated with high amounts of heavy metals. No change in the law is required, though manufacturers, importers and retailers need to assure that the products they manufacture, import, and sell are free of adulteration. AHPA encourages its members to test products for heavy metals.


(1) Saper RB, et al. Some herbal medicine products contain potentially toxic amounts of heavy metals. JAMA 2004; 292:2868-73.


The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) is the national trade association and voice of the herbal supplement industry, the only trade association devoted solely to herbal issues. AHPA is the recognized leader in representing the responsible center of the botanical trade, and is comprised of the finest growers, processors, manufacturers and marketers of herbal products. AHPA’s mission is to promote the responsible commerce of herbal products. AHPA committees generate self-regulations to ensure the highest level of responsibility with respect to the way herbs are manufactured, labeled and sold. Website: www.ahpa.org

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