A cluster of lead poisoning among consumers of Ayurvedic medicine

Int J Occup Environ Health. 2015;21(4):303-7. doi: 10.1179/2049396715Y.0000000009. Epub 2015 Apr 6.


Background: Use of alternative medications and herbal remedies is widespread in the United States and across the globe. These traditional medications can be contaminated with toxic metals. Despite several case reports of poisoning from such contamination, the epidemiological data are still limited.

Objectives: To report on a cluster of lead and mercury toxicity cases in 2011 among a community of adherents of traditional medical practice of Ayurveda.

Methods: Adherents of Ayurveda were offered heavy metals screening following the identification of the index case.

Results: Forty-six of 115 participants (40%) had elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) of 10 μg/dl or above, with 9.6% of BLLs at or above 50 μg/dl.

Conclusions: This is the largest cluster of lead and mercury toxicity following use of Ayurvedic supplements described in the literature in the US. Contamination of herbal products is a public health issue of global significance. There are few regulations addressing contamination of "natural" products or supplements.

Keywords: Ayurvedic medicine; Complementary and alternative medicine; Lead toxicity; Mercury toxicity; Public health response.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iowa / epidemiology
  • Lead / blood*
  • Lead Poisoning / epidemiology
  • Lead Poisoning / etiology*
  • Male
  • Medicine, Ayurvedic*
  • Mercury / blood*
  • Mercury Poisoning / epidemiology
  • Mercury Poisoning / etiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Plant Preparations / adverse effects*


  • Plant Preparations
  • Lead
  • Mercury