Dr. Raghunath Anant Mashelkar is the former Director General of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research in India.
During the Second World Ayurveda Congress he shared his thoughts about bhasmas — the Ayurvedic “supplements” with the highest reported heavy metal (lead, tin, iron, arsenic) content.
Bhasmas are mixtures of metals or minerals and account for almost 10% of ayurvedic products. Most are traditionally calcined (heated to bring about decomposition) in sealed earthen containers by burning cow dung cakes. Other times, furnaces are used. The final products from this process are fine powders about 50 microns or less in diameter.
Most of the elements used in these preparations are classified as toxic in standard scientific texts.
But in ayurvedic medicine, bhasmas are considered fast-acting healing agents and are used freely, particularly siddha preparations — medical treatment of diseases where different substances are combined to “balance” the possible harmful effect of each substance.
The bottom line?
Dr. Mashelkar observes that no toxic effects have apparently been reported from bhasmas, although researchers from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston have reported several cases.
His main point however, is that “to make them internationally acceptable, it will not only be necessary to show that they are efficacious and non-toxic, but also to define their physicochemical characteristics by accurate scientific measures.”
Here’s his list of things to do in response to recent reports of heavy metal “contamination” in ayurvedic medicines.
Encourage clinical research in ayurvedic institutions
Create a complete ayurvedic pharmacopeia
Create an effective surveillance system, like the post-market surveillance systems for other traditional systems
Carry out studies of ayurvedic biology
Establish a presence in international scientific journals
John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.