Researchers find high levels of potentially toxic heavy metals in herbal medicine products

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“This study, yet again, highlights the need for Congress to revisit the way dietary supplements are regulated in the U.S.,” said co- author David Eisenberg, MD, the Bernard Osher Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of the Harvard Medical School Division of Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies. “Over-the-counter herbs and supplements with high levels of heavy metals are simply dangerous,” he said.

The researchers found that 14 of the 70 HMPs they tested contained lead, mercury, and/or arsenic. Each of the 14 could result in heavy metal intakes above regulatory standards. Several of the HMPs could result in lead and arsenic intakes of 1,000 to 10,000 times greater than the regulatory standards. Fifty percent of the HMPs containing potentially toxic heavy metals were recommended by the manufacturers for use in infants and children. Eleven manufacturers produced at least one HMP containing heavy metals. Eighty percent of the stores sold one or more HMPs containing significant amounts of heavy metals.

Marketed as dietary supplements, Ayurvedic HMPs are not required to provide proof of safety or efficacy prior to marketing, but the researchers believe that testing for toxic heavy metals should be mandatory for all imported dietary supplements, including Ayurvedic HMPs.