Where do you get your mercury?

There is an ongoing discussion amongst our Sciblings regarding our German counterparts at scienceblogs.de. Apparently they have some odd folks as science bloggers over there, including people who think ayurvedic heavy metals are good for you. In the tradition of countering speech with speech, I’m giving you this repost. More to come, I’m sure. –PalMD

ResearchBlogging.orgThe Infectious Disease Promotion Movement (let by such intellectual luminaries as Jenny McCarthy) may be worried about “toxins” in vaccines, but the real problem may hiding in plain sight.

Today’s issue of JAMA has an interesting study of Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicines. It turns out that many of them contain a significant amount of toxic heavy metals.

Let’s have a little refresher on the difference between science-based medicine and everything else. Science-based medicine is medicine based on science, everything else is either unproven or bullshit. Appealing to “ancient traditions” is a common practice among the “altmed” crowds. After all, if it’s been used for thousands of years, it must have something to it, right? Well, not really. After all, the only thing “ancient” really means is “pre-scientific”. Why trust your health to an ossified, thousand-year-old belief system based on superstition?

Well, here’s another good reason not to go with “tradition” over science.

Overall, the prevalence of Ayurvedic medicines containing detectable lead, mercury, and/or arsenic was 20.7% (Table 2). Lead was the most commonly found metal, followed by mercury and arsenic. The prevalence of metal-containing products did not differ significantly between US- and Indian-manufactured products. The median lead concentration in Indian-manufactured vs US-manufactured lead-containing products was similar. Mercury was present in greater concentrations in Indian-manufactured products. Rasa shastra compared with non-rasa shastra medicines were more than twice as likely to contain metals. Rasa shastra metal-containing medicines had higher lead and mercury median concentrations than non-rasa shastra metal-containing medicines.


Ayurvedic medicines manufactured in the United States contained primarily lead at concentrations below 25 µg/g, whereas Indian-manufactured medicines contained both lead and mercury at concentrations that reached 104 µg/g. Rasa shastra medicines were more likely to be manufactured in India. Agnitundi Bati, Ekangvir Ras, and Arogyavardhini Bati were Indian-manufactured rasa shastra medicines distributed by US Web sites with extremely elevated lead and mercury concentrations. In contrast, US-manufactured rasa shastra medicines did not contain detectable mercury and had lower lead concentrations than those manufactured in India.


Manufacturers of 75% of the metal-containing products claimed Good Manufacturing Practices or metal testing, and these claims were not associated with a lower prevalence of toxic metals. Membership in ADMA was not associated with a lower likelihood of metal presence compared with nonmembership. Products made by AHPA members compared with nonmembers were less likely to contain metals. Products containing metals were more likely to be tablets and less likely to be liquids or pastes.


All metal-containing products would cause ingestions exceeding at least 1 regulatory standard. Indian-manufactured rasa shastra medicines would cause the greatest lead and mercury ingestions, often substantially exceeding all standards [or maximum daily metal intakes].

Well, at least this crap is more likely than, say, Echinacea to be pharmacologically active. It’s just that the biologic activity is not particularly desired—heavy metal poisoning is rather unpleasant.

One particular type of Ayurvedic medicine (rasa shastra) has particularly high levels of metals which are included intentionally. What is the justification?

Ayurveda advocates in India maintain that rasa shastra medicines have been used effectively and safely for millennia. They ascribe case reports of metal toxicity to improper commercial manufacturing practices or lack of supervision from a practitioner skilled in rasa shastra…Ayurveda experts in India believe that if bhasmas are properly prepared according to ancient protocols, the metals undergo shodhana (“purification”), rendering them nontoxic and therapeutic.

In other words, the toxins are only toxic because the right person didn’t say the right magic spell. This almost makes homeopathy look legit (OK, sorry, just kidding. They’re both bullshit, just with different levels of hazard.)

These preparations are widely available both in the U.S. and elsewhere, are intentionally laden with toxic metals, and falsely claim to be “officially” safe. With our available modern understanding of science, biology, and medicine, there is no excuse for this kind of modern shamanism.

Engage the skeptical brain, dear readers. Vaccines don’t contain toxins, herbal remedies do.


Saper, R., et al, . (2008). Lead, Mercury, and Arsenic in US- and Indian-Manufactured Ayurvedic Medicines Sold via the Internet. Journal of the American Medical Association, 300(8), 915-923.