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Ayurvedic medicines pose lead poisoning risk

August 24, 2012 16:25 IST

Several pregnant women taking Ayurvedic medicines made in India were detected with dangerous lead poisoning which can damage the brain, kidneys and nervous systems, US researches have claimed after investigating cases associated with the use of such traditional drugs.

Flagging off concerns around the use of Ayurvedic medicines in pregnant women, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, in a report released on Thursday, documented the cases found in New York City.

Exposure to lead can damage the brain, kidneys, and nervous and reproductive systems, it said.

This past year the New York City investigated six cases of lead poisoning associated with the use of 10 oral Ayurvedic medications made in India.

All six cases were in foreign-born pregnant women -- five of whom were born in India -- assessed for lead exposure risk by health-care providers during prenatal visits, as required by New York State law.

"Foreign-born pregnant women might be at increased risk for lead poisoning. Reasons include use of certain foreign products and increased bone stores of lead from past exposures," said the report.

According to the report, one of the women born in India, aged 30 years, took 1-2 capsules daily for four months of Pregnita, an Ayurvedic medication manufactured and purchased in India.

She had obtained Pregnita from a practitioner in India who prescribed it for pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting.

Another woman born in India, aged 24 years, ingested two tablets of the Ayurvedic prenatal medication Garbhapal Ras daily to "keep her pregnancy and fetus healthy".

The third woman, born in India, aged 35 years, had a history of miscarriages and used four Ayurvedic medications approximately two months before pregnancy to promote fertility. She ceased use upon learning she was pregnant.

She had obtained the medications while in India from an Ayurvedic practitioner.

The fourth Indian woman, aged 33 years, began using five different Ayurvedic medications to improve fertility and one to improve skin complexion about seven months before her pregnancy. She used each product once or twice daily for approximately four months.

Finally, the fifth woman, 35, had begun using six medications to increase her chances of "having a male baby".

She obtained the medications from her mother-in-law, who visited an Ayurvedic practitioner in India on her behalf. She took the medication 1–3 times a day until she discontinued use in June, the report said.

In all these cases, the study found high presence of lead.

Fetal lead exposure increases the risks for low birth weight, developmental delay, reduced intelligence, and behavioural problems, it said, adding that pregnant women exposed to lead might be at increased risk for gestational hypertension and spontaneous abortion.

According to CDC, the cases of lead poisoning among the six pregnant women underscore the importance of risk assessment for lead exposure and blood lead testing in at-risk populations.

Health-care providers should be aware that users might not readily disclose use of health products; ask patients about their use of prescription and non-prescription medications and supplements, including Ayurvedic medications and other traditional remedies; advise patients to stop using suspect products; and consider testing patients for exposure to lead or other heavy metals if use is reported.

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