Can pill of powerful Indian herbs do more harm than good [details here]


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As if the Indian honey scandal was not enough to shake our trust, here comes another social media discussion that aims at taking the lid off several immunity building supplements floating in the market. The ones especially having a ball in the wake of COVID.

Representational image/Twitter

A social media post by a liver specialist, physician, scientist and researcher brings to light a totally different narrative than the ones given by Indian multi-national companies, who for years have built their brand around a few keywords; natural, herbal, Ayurvedic.

Be it supplements that are centred around ensuring a healthy liver, tablet shots of powerful Indian herbs or a super concentrated blend of nutrients.

The pandemic has been like a sea of opportunity for the pharmaceutical companies and all its verticals. “I was sent these samples from a hospital in Chennai after the physician caring for a patient with abnormal liver test found out he was on these…We performed ICP-OES, GCMSMS analyses.”

While lead ideally should be unheard of in drugs, unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case. The other heavy metals found were Arsenic, Mercury, Thallium, Cadmium, Cobalt. While the horrendous possible effects of their prolonged use can be easily searched up on Google. What one often refuses to do a counter-search on is the side-effects of mass-produced herbal/ natural/ ayurvedic supplements and liquids.

“Industrial solvents, chemical additives, potential plant toxins, there is a lot going on,” the thread further warns.

The goodness gone wrong

Cases of acute liver or kidney failure coming in from prolonged use of ayurvedic products prescribed by quacks are not unheard of. Nor are Ayurvedic patients with acute hepatic failure especially the patients who fall for wellness practices and ‘safe’ herbal medicines.

Users beware…stay safe

To cut the long story short, there are no guidelines or barometers for measuring improved immunity or parameters of side effects that immunity building supplements can cause.

There are no scientific tests, clinical trials or studies either that can back the improved immunity by the use of such herbal supplements. So what’s the way out? Ideally, one should prescribe or take only the drugs that have passed the rigorous screening by internationally accepted testing authorities. But where does one find properly tested ayurvedic treatment?

When in doubt, leave it out…always

Remarks a former employee of one of the Indian herbal giant, “Ayurveda is no more Ayurveda anywhere, I must say. Spray drying and encapsulation happens after heavy usage of chemicals in all ayurvedic products in the markets. And I can understand, why it is so. It’s mass production of solutions.”

Did that hurt? Reacts another user, “Just wondering, why they can’t just package placebo which doesn’t harm anyone. Isn’t this plain simple mass poisoning?”

Experts have time and again advised getting ayurvedic medicines tested in an accredited food and drug laboratory for metal traces.

Herbal medicine


Zeroing in on search words; herbal, Ayurveda, studies

As per a study published in April 2015 by Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, College of Public Health, The University of Iowa, 46 of 115 participants (40%) had elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) of 10 ug/dl or above, with 9.6 % of BLLs at or above 50ug/dl. The study concluded that this was the largest cluster of lead and mercury toxicity following the use of Ayurvedic supplements described in the literature in the US.

“Contamination of herbal products is a public health issue of global significance. There are few regulations addressing contamination of “natural” products or supplements.”

What can we do?

Sending samples to perform ICP-OES, GCMSMS analysis to test around five of the heavy metals can cost around Rs 5000, but that’s still cheaper than hospital bills. Reading up on medicines and drugs that have been through the mandatory testing (ICP-OES/ICP-MS), spectroscopic techniques (NMR, MS, IR etc) and GC would be a good start. Or better still, not falling for wellness practices like liver cleanse with Ayurveda, gallbladder flushes, daily dietary supplements from alternative medicine that haven’t been through rigorous clinical trials, scientific testing and research.

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