Lead poisoning in pregnant women who used Ayurvedic medications from India--New York City, 2011-2012

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2012 Aug 24;61(33):641-6.


Lead poisoning still occurs in the United States despite extensive prevention efforts and strict regulations. Exposure to lead can damage the brain, kidneys, and nervous and reproductive systems. Fetal exposure to lead can adversely affect neurodevelopment, decrease fetal growth, and increase the risk for premature birth and miscarriage. During 2011-2012, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) investigated six cases of lead poisoning associated with the use of 10 oral Ayurvedic medications made in India. All six cases were in foreign-born pregnant women assessed for lead exposure risk by health-care providers during prenatal visits, as required by New York state law. Their blood lead levels (BLLs) ranged from 16 to 64 µg/dL. Lead concentrations of the medications were as high as 2.4%; several medications also contained mercury or arsenic, which also can have adverse health effects. DOHMH distributed information about the medications to health-care providers, product manufacturers, and government agencies in the United States and abroad, via postal and electronic mail. DOHMH also ordered a local business selling contaminated products to cease sales. Health-care providers should ask patients, especially foreign-born or pregnant patients, about any use of foreign health products, supplements, and remedies such as Ayurvedic medications. Public health professionals should consider these types of products when investigating heavy metal exposures and raise awareness among health-care providers and the public regarding the health risks posed by such products.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chelating Agents / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Lead / blood
  • Lead Poisoning / diagnosis
  • Lead Poisoning / drug therapy
  • Lead Poisoning / etiology*
  • Medicine, Ayurvedic*
  • New York City
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology*
  • Prenatal Care
  • Young Adult


  • Chelating Agents
  • Lead