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British cloud on ayurvedic drugs

Aug. 18: Indian ayurvedic products sold in Britain have come under the scanner after the drug regulatory authority there issued a warning about the possibility of dangerous levels of heavy metals in the herbal remedies.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said these products might have entered the British market and advised consumers not to take them, according to The Times, London.

Its warning came after a similar one issued by its counterpart, Health Canada, which found that several herbal products in the Canadian market contained high levels of the metals.

The products listed are all made by Indian companies, like Dabur, Zandu Pharmaceuticals, Himalaya Drug Company and Hamdard, whose Pakistani counterpart has also been named.

Roy Alder, the agency’s director of executive support, said: “Medicinal products containing high levels of heavy metals pose a serious public health risk. Many of the products we suspect to have entered the UK may contain mercury, arsenic and lead. These metals can cause severe nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Other serious problems such as kidney damage, convulsions and coma have also been reported.”

Several studies in recent years have found heavy metals in ayurvedic medicines imported from India. In some cases they may be contaminants, but in others they are deliberately included in the belief that they have health benefits, the paper said.

Indian drug firms said they have had the drugs tested by foreign agencies. S.K. Mitra, executive director of research and technical of Himalaya, said: “We have had karela capsules tested by Rigaku, a research laboratory in Texas and by the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai. Both have given a clean chit.”

Its karela capsules, said to promote vitality and control blood sugar, are on the list the UK regulator has asked consumers to stay away from. Claimed to be a rejuvenator, Shilajit, sold by Dabur, is also on the list.

A Dabur spokesperson said: “We are very sensitive to issues related to our products. We have got our Shilajit tested by SGS (based in Switzerland), a global chain of independent and renowned testing laboratories, that confirms that our product does not contain heavy metals.”

In India, the market is brimming with myriad herbal drugs, without any standardisation or quality control. These drugs have not undergone rigorous pharmaceutical studies and clinical trials.

Under Indian laws, a company can produce and sell a cocktail of herbal extracts as long as each ingredient is mentioned by name in one of several ancient ayurvedic texts.

There are now signs that the government is responding to calls by doctors and drug control directorate officials for a change of rules to regulate manufacture and sale of ayurvedic products.

Ashwani Kumar, the drug controller of India, said over phone from Delhi: “There is nothing secret about the fact that ayurvedic drugs have some permissible level of metals known as bhasma used for centuries. No one has ever questioned its composition or quality, but with controversies surrounding its efficacy emerging in the US, Canada and other countries, the government is now seriously looking into the issue.”

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