AHMEDABAD: Many believe that “herbal” is synonymous with “safe,” but it turns out ayurvedic medicines, if not prepared as prescribed in rasa shastras can, in fact, turn deadly with metals like lead or mercury!
A retired IAS officer and secretary, revenue appeals, Gunwant Champaneri found himself critically ill with severe weight loss, alarmingly low haemoglobin levels, loss of appetite and neurological weakness with wrist drop, making it difficult for him even to hold a cup of tea. After lot of medical consultations, he was diagnosed with lead poisoning ostensibly caused by ayurvedic diabetes medication he had started for better sugar control -- the safer way.
“I had started taking an ayurvedic course for diabetes in July 2010. I lost 17 kilos in 10 months, my haemoglobin levels fell to 7, I had abdominal pains and I lost appetite. I was readying for a spine surgery when a doctor suggested I consult a toxicologist. I was shocked that I was suffering from lead poisoning with exceptionally high lead level of 80.88 ug/dl,” says Champaneri.
The WHO has recommended the upper limit for lead in blood to be no more than 10 ug/dl for adults and 5 ug/dl for children.
Retired NIOH clinical toxicologist Dr Aruna Dewan, now director of Center For Education Awareness and Research On Chemicals and Health says she is getting significant number of lead poisoning cases -- mostly triggered by people popping ‘safe ayurvedic’ drugs.
Dewan put Champaneri on a treatment of an oral chelating agent D-penicillamine, one of the most preferred medicines for lead detoxification and a rarely available drug. Dewan said, “There is a strong need for stringent quality control measures to be in place for ayurvedic medicines.”
“I recommend people who are taking ayurvedic medicines should get them tested in a government accredited food and drug laboratory for metal traces,” she said.
Leading gastroenterologist Dr Nilay Mehta said that lead poisoning due to ayurvedic medications with heavy metals, especially those used for treating diabetes is an alarming issue.
He cited the case of a Muslim businessman from Rajkot who was brought to him with convulsions, severe jaundice and altered sensorium wherein he was not able to recognize his family members.
Neurologist Dr Sudhir Shah treated him for neuropathy. “The businessman had taken ayurvedic medicine to control diabetes for ten-odd months. While his sugar levels were controlled, he suffered serious complications and has not recovered 100% even after two and a half years,” Dr Mehta said.
“The alarming growth in lead poisoning in patients has now led us to take detailed medication history of patients including ayurvedic and herbal medications as well", said Dr Mehta.
We have to disagree with Napoleon, the pig, in Geroge Orwell's "Animal Farm". All four legged animals are not good and all two legged animals are not bad. There are benefits in all streams of medicines, Allopathy, Homeopathy and Ayurvedic.
Allopathy has been the most researched, tested and propagated stream although on many occasions the pharmaceutical companies do incomplete testing or hide the results of any adverse test results. However, in India, especially North India, I am sorry to say, unscrupulous physicians and surgeons are more interested in earning a fast buck rather than look after the welfare of the patient.
Homeopathy, too has been a well researched stream and my family believe strongly on its efficacy. Allopaths look down on it, probably out of fear that they will lose patients. However, it is slow to act and where quick results are required or where surgery is required a good homeopath would recommend his patient to see a specialist allopath.
Ayurved has been the least researched. It has through the ages been handed down from father to son knowledge,kept secretive in the family with very few records kept and handed down from word of mouth.It normally famous for its churans (mixed powders) for indigestion and colds and cough. They promise treatments and remedies from all ailments including, TB , Cancer and AIDs, but with no records to show.Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction has been one of its forte if we see the number of ads from Baids and Hakims as practitioners of Ayurved are called. However, the persons who take these cures for ED never expose their effects for fear of exposing themselves. After the appearance of Viagra and its other avtars, ayurveds are known to add the above ED drugs in their churans to cure ED.
The present government which is hell bent on taking us back through the dark ages, wants to promote Aurvedic medicine. It is good news, at least, some research will be done on it.