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Study warns of herbal cure dangers

February 23, 2009|By JOSH GOLDSTEIN / The Philadelphia Inquirer

As Americans flock to the Internet searching for health-care information and products, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine warn of big risks associated with buying certain traditional herbal cures online.

Robert B. Saper and colleagues at the school bought samples of various Indian ayurvedic remedies and tested them for lead, mercury and arsenic.

In a study published in Wednesday's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers reported that one in five of the Ayurvedic medicines purchased online contained toxic levels of the heavy metals. And they said the dangerous metals were found at the same rate in supplements made in India and those made in the United States.

The researchers analyzed 193 randomly selected medicines purchased online after searching 673 products using popular Internet search engines. Nearly 21 percent of the medicines contained toxic levels of heavy metals.

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In the Indian rasa shastra medical tradition, herbs are combined with metals, minerals and crushed gems such as pearls. Experts in the tradition claim that properly made and administered, those mixtures are safe and effective treatments.

Saper's research, however, suggests many of the medicines sold as supplements in this country and over the Internet could be dangerous.

"We suggest strictly enforced, government-mandated daily dose limits for toxic metals in all dietary supplements," the authors concluded.

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