Saturday, June 15, 2024
Home Health Women hospitalized with lead poisoning from Ayurvedic infertility supplement

Women hospitalized with lead poisoning from Ayurvedic infertility supplement

by nytime
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A Canadian woman who spent weeks in and out of the emergency department was found to be suffering from lead poisoning caused by toxic herbal remedies.

The Ontario native, 39, was taking supplements rooted in Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient field of holistic healing that focuses on restoring balance in the body and mind.

However, health officials have revealed that some medicines contain lead, arsenic, and mercury, which damage the nervous system, increase risk of several cancers, and endanger expectant mothers and their babies. 

The unnamed woman went through a barrage of diagnostic tests to determine the cause of her six-week bout of severe abdominal pain, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. 

Health Canada, the country's public health authority, identified the clinic that the patient visited as Kerela Ayurvedic & Natural Herbal Consultation clinic in Ontario

Health Canada, the country’s public health authority, identified the clinic that the patient visited as Kerela Ayurvedic & Natural Herbal Consultation clinic in Ontario

Supplements the patient was taking were meant to treat her infertility, but actually drove her blood lead levels up 11 times higher than the maximum safe level

Supplements the patient was taking were meant to treat her infertility, but actually drove her blood lead levels up 11 times higher than the maximum safe level

Doctors ultimately found her blood lead level was 55 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), roughly 11 times higher than what is deemed the safest maximum concentration.

She had been taking the supplements for more than a year to treat her infertility, a fact she did not disclose to her clinicians until later, which delayed an accurate diagnosis. 

Lead is sometimes used in traditional Ayurvedic supplements for infertility because of its association with a traditional concept that refers to the use of substances that promote overall health and vitality. 

Details of the Ontario patient’s case did not say explicitly whether lead and other metals were added by mistake during some part of the manufacturing process or on purpose, though the Ayurvedic concepts that support its use suggests it was an intentional addition. 

Depending on the level of lead exposure, the toxic heavy metal can lead to a wide range of health effects, such as behavioral changes, anemia, seizures, and infertility, which may often mistakenly be diagnosed as other illnesses.

In addition to infertility, the patient had a history of thyroid dysfunction, which caused her thyroid gland to not release enough of the hormones crucial to maintaining metabolism, energy production, and overall growth.

Upon visiting the hospital a third time, she was admitted so doctors could explore if the patient had gastrointestinal bleeding and anemia – a condition that leads to too few red blood cells. 

Diagnostic tests showed her blood cells were smaller and paler than usual and dotted with dark blue and purple granules, indicating a condition known as basophilic stippling.

Levels of minerals and hormones in her body were normal, as were tests of her urine, blood, intestines, and ovaries, though her bones were storing a lot of iron. 

Her pain levels improved after blood transfusions, which is likely what led doctors to diagnose her as anemic.

Two weeks after leaving the hospital, her abdominal pain had improved but she was still fatigued, struggled to breathe, had headaches, and ringing in her ears, forcing doctors to re-evaluate their initial diagnosis. 

They tested her urine again, this time for indications of porphyria, a group of rare genetic disorders that affect the body’s ability to produce heme, a crucial component of hemoglobin that carries oxygen in the blood.

They found that she had elevated levels of two substances that are precursors to porphyria, signaling that her body’s ability to produce heme was insufficient.

It wasn’t until a follow-up appointment an entire month after her hospitalization that the patient admitted she had been taking Ayurvedic supplements for about a year to help her get pregnant and had only stopped taking them after leaving the hospital the third time. 

After she stopped, she noticed an improvement in her stomach pain but then resumed taking them, only to see the symptoms return. 

The doctors behind the case study said: ‘When the diagnosis of lead toxicity was made, the clinicians contacted Public Health Ontario, a provincial public health agency that provides scientific and technical support to the Ontario government and health care system’.

Public Health Ontario tested 17 different types of pills and two incense samples provided by the patient. Of these, 11 of the pills contained lead levels far higher than what a test is able to detect. One pill contained 129,000 μg/g of lead, about 26,000 times higher than the maximum level recommended by Canadian health authorities, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, four additional pills contained a range of 7,900 to 33,000 μg/g of mercury, a toxic substance that can have adverse effects on the nervous system and organs.

While it is not clear whether the supplements the woman was taking were illegal, Canada's health and safety regulations require an extensive pre-market approval process that screens for contaminants like lead, arsenic, and mercury, suggesting these supplements flew under the radar

While it is not clear whether the supplements the woman was taking were illegal, Canada’s health and safety regulations require an extensive pre-market approval process that screens for contaminants like lead, arsenic, and mercury, suggesting these supplements flew under the radar

Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old healing tradition based in India, seeks to balance the body and mind using herbal remedies and holistic, often spiritually-based methods

Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old healing tradition based in India, seeks to balance the body and mind using herbal remedies and holistic, often spiritually-based methods

Doctors said: ‘A joint investigation of the Ayurvedic clinic confirmed the practitioner’s noncompliance with the Natural Health Products Regulations and resulted in the seizure of hundreds of pills.

‘Health Canada independently tested 15 types of pills seized at the practitioner’s clinic and found high levels of arsenic, mercury or lead in 14 of the samples. Three pills also contained prescription medications including diclofenac, dexamethasone, progesterone, norgestrel and cetirizine’.

The agency recommended that doctors who treat patients presenting with similar symptoms and blood test results strongly consider lead poisoning as a possible culprit, though the fact that lead toxicity is fairly uncommon means patients often have to see a range of medical professionals until a diagnosis can be made.

The supplements the woman was taking were proprietary brands, meaning they were unique to the clinic. But many like them have been found to contain higher-than-acceptable levels of lead, mercury, and arsenic, often because the heavy metals are considered to maintain some healing properties in the Ayurvedic tradition.

In fact, an estimated 20 percent of Ayurvedic pills sold on the internet from US- and India-based manufacturers contained all three of those heavy metals.

While it is not clear whether the pills sold at the Kerela Ayurvedic & Natural Herbal Consultation clinic in Ontario were illegal, Canada’s health authorities typically have a stringent pre-market approval process that first requires supplements to maintain a certain designation for homeopathic remedies, followed by a thorough assessment of the product’s safety, quality, and efficacy.

The process for getting supplements on the market is considerably less rigorous in the US, where the Food and Drug Administration does not conduct any pre-market investigation. This means the agency only acts, such as to remove a problematic product from shelves, after a problem such as lead toxicity arises.

The lenient regulatory policies in the US have helped the supplement industry grow its value to a staggering $37.2 billion, though some estimates pin the value closer to $55 billion.

And many reputable authorities have disputed their usefulness. Dr Tim Spector, a British epidemiologist and genetics expert at King’s College London believes supplements make ‘total mugs’ of those who buy them ‘when we should be spending it on real food.’

He said last year: ‘These supplements are driven by the same companies… they’re going to be the new future giant food companies.

‘Their budgets are massive. They’re not these artisan little people in the back of a shed in Somerset making a superb organic supplement.

‘They’re all made in massive factories in China and you have no control [over] what it is – and 99 percent of them have been shown not to work at all.’

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