The ancient Indian practice of medicine, known as Ayurveda, has long been credited as a great alternative treatment for various health problems. It makes use of different kinds of natural herbs and medicinal plants that are said to not have side effects as associated with chemical drugs. Perhaps this is why, even for major diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart problems, people resort to Ayurvedic drugs, trusting them to be the better mode of treatment. Various research studies are also being carried out to incorporate Ayurvedic remedies with medical treatments in an attempt to treat diseases naturally. However, like they all say, when it comes to health, you shouldn’t blindly follow what you hear. In recent times, there have been various cases of Ayurvedic drug poisoning leading to serious health problems.The drug poisoning is mainly attributed to heavy metal contamination such as lead, arsenic and mercury. In the method of making Ayurvedic medicines, heavy metals are commonly included into the herbal formulations to enhance potency and add in to the therapeutic properties. But traditionally, these metals are purified before being used in the drugs, as instructed in Rasa Shastras.
According to an earlier article written by Rob Gair from BC Centre for Disease Control in BCMJ, “Heavy metal toxicity following the use of Ayurvedic remedies is well documented in the literature. During the traditional preparation of bhasmas (Ayurvedic medicines), the metal is “purified-out” through multiple cooling and heating cycles and by addition of specific “mineral herbs.” In modern formulations, however, the concentration of heavy metals may be excessive because poor quality control allows for contamination, adulteration, or improper purification.”
Few years back, researchers at Boston University found that one fifth of Ayurvedic medicines sold online contained dangerous levels of toxins. Some had 100 to 10,000 times the recommended safety levels. This of course lead to speculations of the quality of Ayurvedic drugs sold worldwide, with Ayurveda experts cautioning everyone to not purchase drugs online without consulting a proper Ayurvedic practitioner.
In a recent incidence reported by The Times of India, a retired IAS officer from Allahabad who was on Ayurvedic diabetes medication was found critically ill with alarming levels of lead in his blood. He had severely lost weight, showed low haemoglobin levels and neurological weakness, among other problems. There have been many other cases with people complaining of nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, anaemia, loss of appetite, etc after consuming Ayurvedic drugs.
The ancient science of Ayurveda must not be subjected to poor quality control of mass production. It contains substantial answers to various health problems, which have been studied for centuries. There is also a branch of Ayurveda called Agada Tantra, which is referred to as the discipline of toxicology that delves into different types of poisoning (animal origin, plant origin and artificial poisons).
According to a report published on NCBI by researcher P. Ram Manohar, “Safety of medicines and treatments has always been on high priority in the tradition of Ayurveda. Ayurveda has taken pride in claiming itself to be the ‘suddha’ approach to treatment that pacifies diseases without causing new problems… When it comes to the use of minerals and metals, the texts are clear that these are extremely toxic substances that can have a fatal impact on the body. However, elaborate methods of purification and processing have been described to render them nontoxic and safe for human use.”
According to Dr Ashutosh Gautam, Clinical Operations and Coordination Manager at Baidyanath, “What most people fail to understand is that Ayurvedic treatment is different for different individuals. There is no universal cure. Since it’s to do with your health, you need to be twice as more careful. Various drug companies mix allopathic compounds with natural extracts and sell them as herbal medicines. That’s not Ayurveda. Also, Ayurvedic drugs that may have worked for someone else doesn’t necessarily mean that they will work for you. Everyone’s constitution is different.”
“Ingredients as simple as apple and cloves may sometimes turn fatal if one doesn’t follow proper instruction. I remember an incidence when a man, who was prescribed to have 1 clove and 1 apple every day for a period of 108 days for weight loss was admitted in the hospital for heart attack because he landed up consuming them all in one day. Clove, if taken in large quantities, can impact your heart severely because it is a cardiac stimulant. That’s why it’s crucial to correctly follow prescriptions and consult an expert before consuming any drugs.”