I earlier posed a question in the "Ayurveda Companies & Brands" section of this forum (viewtopic.php?f=7&t=3903
), asking for input on the safety of a particular manufacturer's herbal toothpaste. The absence of a reply obligated me to crawl the web and assemble some information, which I'd like to share.
The original impetus for my safety inquiry was news reports on US media concerning a case of an American patient who had been poisoned by an Ayurvedic herbal preparation. That case became part of a paper on the US Centers for Disease Control website:http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5326a3.htm
Around the time of this case, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of its first study (December, 2004) of the heavy metals content of randomly collected samples of Ayurvedic preparations gathered from shops in the Boston, Massachusetts area:
The study results were reported in the Times of India (December, 2004):http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/arti ... 960523.cms
Eventually legislation was enacted by the Indian government, calling for licensed manufacturers of Ayurvedic preparations to comply with certain standards for heavy metals content (reported by Times of India October 2005, to become effective January 2006):http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/arti ... 273584.cms
In the meantime (August-October, 2005) samples were being collected for a second American study, this time gathering a random sample of herbs available in the US through firms selling on the Internet. This sample included ayurvedic preparations manufactured in both India and the US. The study was published in August, 2008:
Just before uncovering the above information, I had ordered two bulk herbs, Ashwagandha and Astragalus (a Chinese herb) from the Internet (one study suggests that the Chinese herbs have the same heavy metals concerns associated with them):http://www.herbera.com/herb/maga/03_01e.htm
One report in the magazine "US News and World Report" suggested that the causes of the heavy metals content are not trivial. Heavy metals are ubiquitous in the soil, in India, China and the US. Some contamination, which is due to human activity, can be controlled, and the rest requires testing and caution (regarding selecting the geographic area where the herbs are grown, etc.):http://health.usnews.com/health-news/ma ... ry-or.html
In the category of "human activity" it is theorized by some that the introduction of inorganic fertilizers containing phosphorus could be the cause of activating naturally-occurring deposits of arsenic in Bengladesh (which borders India) which had previously been inert (as far as absorption by plants was concerned), resulting in widespread arsenocosis in the rural population:http://www.sos-arsenic.net/english/natu ... ation.html
To cap the whole thing, my research led me to discover that heavy metals are amply present in the general food supply, and that whether the food is certified organic or not is no assurance of a low heavy metals content. On the contrary, organic agriculture utilizing organic manure can lead to a concentration of heavy metals:http://www.slate.com/id/2198756/pagenum/all/#p2
A regulatory framework for protecting the public is in the process of being erected, but the progress is slow. At present, huge unregulated areas exist in FDA, USDA and other codes.
For those residing in the US, it may provide consolation that, in a conversation with the herb department at the Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico, I verified that the Institute does make sure that all their products are safe according to standard guidelines for daily limits of consumption established by the federal government (based on the JAMA studies, I assume this involves the standards established by the USP and EPA). The institute obtains herbs pre-tested by the supplier Banyan Botanicals, and for other herbs, the Institute performs its own tests. Some herbal preparations (I had asked about Saraswati Churna) cannot be offered by the Institute because some ingredients cannot be obtained in a sufficiently "clean" state (i.e., sufficiently free from heavy metals). In these cases, the custom preparation of alternate formulations with similar energetics can be requested by ayurvedic professionals.
My supplier for the two herbs mentioned above obtains them from the wholesaler Ameriherb. I have done business with Ameriherb and consider them a fine company. The representative in my phone conversation this morning said he would forward me the test results for heavy metals for the herbs in my order. We shall see the results.
One alternative is testing a sample of your herb at home, and the sources I've uncovered so far are:
(1) Osumex (sells a general heavy metals test as well as individual tests which have greater acuity and tolerance of varying pH):http://www.heavymetalstest.com/_general.php
(2) Chemsee (API Food Poison Detection Kit--an easy-to-use system which FEMA says might cost around $76 a pop):
[on lower part of this page] http://www.chemsee.com/site/569947/page/323169
Wishing You All Good Health,
Cameron D. McIntosh