April 01, 2007

Australia issues alert over metal content in traditional Indian medicines

Australia has joined the UK, USA and Canada in warning its citizens against using unapproved traditional medicines from India and China.

Its main worry is the metal content in these medicines.

The department of health and ageing therapeutic goods administration of Australia (ADRAC) wants the citizens to consider the possibility of contamination and adulteration before buying any herb or herbal medicine for personal use, especially over the Internet.

The ADRAC, in its latest advisory in February, said the agency received a report of a couple who showed higher lead levels in the blood after taking ayurvedic herbal medicines, dispensed from an Indian hospital. Stating that the man, who had taken the unidentified ayurvedic medicine for five months was admitted to a hospital.

The agency has warned patients to buy only the medicines that are approved by the Australian drug regulatory authority - Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

“Traditional Indian and Chinese medicines authorised for supply in Australia are regulated as complementary medicines and are required by the TGA to meet set standards of manufacturing and quality that aim to ensure that medicines do not contain unsafe levels of these metals. These products can be identified by an AUST L number on the product label. No assurance can be provided about the standards of manufacturing or the content of heavy metals in herbal remedies or medicines that are not approved for supply in Australia,” the agency said.

It said there were several possible explanations for the presence of heavy metals in traditional herbal remedies. “Salts of heavy metals (for example those of lead, mercury and arsenic) are used as principal ingredients in some traditional Indian and (to a lesser extent) Chinese herbal remedies. In addition, cross-contamination of ingredients can occur between these types of products and products not intended to contain metal salts if manufacturing conditions are not controlled,” the agency said.

Health agencies in the developed countries, including the US, Canada and the UK, are known to be sensitive towards the lead content in ayurvedic medicines. The agencies had recently black-listed several ayurvedic products from India due to higher toxic metal content.

India’s stance on the issue has been that “some ayurveda, siddha and unani drugs have heavy metals for therapeutic value and are processed in such a way that they are de-toxified”. The government had some time ago made testing for metallic content mandatory for traditional drugs meant for exports.

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