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Health official cautions against unauthorised Ayurvedic remedies

Ramil Adhikari
Wellington, April 7, 2024

Health New Zealand (Te Whatu Ora) and the National Poisons Centre are asking members of the Indian community to take extreme care before taking traditional Ayurvedic remedies after some users have become extremely ill after consuming them.

Over the last three months, eight adults of Indian origin across Auckland and the Bay of Plenty areas have become very unwell after taking Ayurvedic remedies, which have caused lead poisoning, with very unpleasant side effects, such as abdominal pain with nausea/vomiting or constipation.

Some patients have also been admitted to hospitals many times, with two of them found to have high levels of lead in their blood. They were at risk of critical illness and death.

Thankfully, all patients have recovered.

However, all of them have reported taking Ayurvedic remedies prior to becoming unwell. They said that these products were being taken for a range of reasons, including severe abdominal pain, infertility, impotence, and chronic pain.

Unlabelled products

Working out which Ayurvedic products may contain dangerous ingredients is difficult, given there are wide variations between products and further lab testing is needed to identify harmful ingredients. However, particular caution is urged when these products come with no packaging, or labelling, or are from uncertain sources.

Among the samples tested so far and found to contain toxic levels of lead, were three small circular flat tablets of approximately 7mm in diameter, coloured black, dark grey, and dark brown. The tablets were unpackaged and unlabelled and were reported to have been brought into the country from India.

Further testing is underway of a more recent sample received by Medsafe, made up of small spherical dark brown ball-shaped pills of approximately 6mm to 7mm in diameter.

Health agencies are therefore reminding anyone who may be using these products to be very careful and to follow this public health advice.

Effects of Lead Poisoning 

Lead poisoning can affect the nervous system, with symptoms including mood changes (such as depression or irritability), memory impairment, sleep disturbance, headache, tingling and numbness in fingers and hands.

Lead poisoning can also affect the stomach and intestine, with symptoms that can include lack of appetite, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach pains and weight loss.

In later stages, symptoms may develop in the blood, kidneys, bones, heart and reproductive systems and may, in extreme cases, cause death.

Round-the-clock help

Some Ayurvedic products can contain unknown or unverified ingredients, so extreme care is advised if considering taking these products.

If you or someone you know becomes unwell after taking Ayurvedic remedies, please contact your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional. Help is also available on free Healthline 0800-611116 at all times.

The National Poisons Centre is available 24/7 to provide advice for any cases of known or suspected lead toxicity, by calling 0800-764 766. If it is an emergency, please visit your hospital Emergency Department or call 111 without delay.

Ramil Adhikari is the Principal Advisor (Equity and Community Engagement) at the Outbreak Response Directorate of the National Public Health Service, Health New Zealand. He has been associated with the Public Health Association of New Zealand for the last eight years and its Wellington Branch Chairperson since 2019. He is multilingual (speaks English, Dutch, Nepali, Hindi, Punjabi and Chinese), a skilled polyglot, a Justice of the Peace, a Marriage Celebrant, a Board member of KiwiClass and President of the Nepalese Culture & Tourism Promotion Forum New Zealand. The above article was sent to us by Mr Adhikari in his official capacity.

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