Saturday, August 30, 2008
Ayurveda and Heavy Metals
A recent study in the August 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association points out that around twenty per cent of ayurvedic products purchased through the internet have significant levels of arsenic, lead and mercury. About 60 percent of the samples were from U.S. companies and 40 percent from Indian companies. Twenty-one percent had significant levels of lead, mercury and arsenic. The ingestion of these metals “could result in lead and/or mercury ingestions 100 to 10,000 times greater than acceptable limits..". This is not the first time that the Journal has reported this. In 2004, a similar study uncovered very similar facts. The existence of heavy metals in Ayurvedic medicine will not be a surprise to most Indians who are probably familiar with the claims of Ayurvedic Vaidyas, that these, in a suitably processed form are not harmful to the human body. The Wikipedia article on Ayurveda quotes Vaidyas as claiming that the practice of using heavy metals therapeutically as anti-microbials and anti-cancer agents is an old one and they have no toxic effects since as they are "meticulously and elaborately processed to oxides, salts and ashes that do not have the same biological activity as the more active, unprocessed compounds". Unfortunately the detoxification process as described in Wikipedia (called samskara) is not exactly guaranteed to fill one with great confidence. The described detoxification is a simple chemical process which involves four successive rounds of boiling the crude Aconitum root in cow's urine (twice) and cow's milk (twice). This process is claimed to chemically modify both toxic and proposed therapeutic components of the root. It also extracts some of these compounds from the root into the boiling solvents, thereby decreasing their concentration in the final product. Like most of Ayurveda, these are just empirical statements quoting some of the Shastras. The above description of the detoxification of Aconite is from the work of a certain Thorat Dahanukar which was carried out on mice and has not been reproduced. There is no attempt to understand what cow's milk and urine have to do with the detoxification. I think for the moment, I will stick to standard (also known as Allopathic) medicine.