Be wary of lead levels in Ayurvedic medications, city warns

The Health Department urges blood tests for patients who've used the alternative treatments after a hospitalization in April.

Due to a hospitalization in April, the city’s Health Department warned New Yorkers Monday to be wary of Ayurvedic medications that could contain high levels of lead and other contaminants.

The unidentified patient, who had consumed Ayurvedic medications purchased from India, was diagnosed with elevated lead levels and received three weeks of chelation therapy, the Health Department said. Although the patient is expected to recover, health officials were concerned enough to issue a health alert to doctors, health offices and other medical professionals warning them of the dangers of untested Ayurvedic drugs.

Ayurveda medicine is an Indian practice that offers holistic, plant-based solutions to ailments, and requires specific preparation methods. Though the federal government does not have in place significant regulations Ayurvedic practices, the products are bought and sold in the United States and around the world. 

The Health Department warned specifically against Ayurvedic medications that use a “rasa shastra” method, in which the medications are prepared with "metal, mineral or gem compounds."

"These products may be manufactured or handmade and can be purchased in New York City or abroad. Users of products found to contain high levels of heavy metals are at an increased risk for adverse health effects," the Health Department wrote in its letter.

The department said health care providers should speak with their patients about any medications they are using, and conduct blood tests to screen for elevated blood lead levels if there is any recent use of Ayurvedic drugs. 

Ivan Pereira