Steroid use in Ayurvedic medicines rampant

Almost 40 pc of non-branded ayurvedic medicine samples tested over past five years by research centre of KEM hospital in Mumbai contained steroids and toxic metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury, finds activist.

As soon as Manjiri Kulkarni (name changed) got the information that a Mumbai-based vaidyashala had a cure for cancer, she wasted no time in taking her ailing sister to the ayurvedic doctor there. The doctor demanded Rs 75,000 for a self-made ayurvedic churna for her sister, who was in the last stage of uterine cancer. Her family bought it and observed that the patient was feeling better. But after some days the medicine stopped showing positive effects, and the family realised it had been cheated.

This is not just a one-off case. An RTI query filed by chemical consultant and activist Dr A R Shenoy in July has revealed that of the 244 ayurvedic samples that were analysed for steroids in the last five years by the Ayurvedic Research Centre (ARC) of KEM hospital in Mumbai, 96 tested positive. Dr Shenoy had got a tip-off that many ayurvedic medicines made and prescribed by so-called vaidya- shalas consisted of steroids and toxic metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury, which can damage kidneys and pancreas.

Cure or curse? Ayurveda practitioners providing adulterated medicines
in the form of bhasma or churna is reportedly rampant in city.
Representation Pic/Thinkstock

"Ayurveda is considered as a last resort when other types of medicine stop affecting the body. But ayurvedic medicines which use steroids and other content (lead, mercury and arsenic) beyond permissible limits could lead to nervousness, chest pain and even coma," said Dr Shenoy.

Dr Kalyan Gangwal, a physician, said incidents of registered doctors providing adulterated ayurvedic medicines in the form of bhasma and churna were rampant even in the city. "They buy steroids called Prednisolone in bulk from the market and mix it with the original form of ayurvedic medicine. They then sell the product, claiming it is a self-made product. Patients may initially feel better but after some time, they adversely affect the body and can damage the kidneys and pancreas."

Dr Gangwal said many patients had come to him complaining of sudden weight gain and swollen bones. "After receiving complaints we get to know they had taken adulterated medicines. Such medicines are generally given for arthritis and bronchial asthma. But not many come forward with complaints and so the malpractice spreads," said Gangwal.

Dr Neelam Rege, head of ARC, KEM hospital, said it was wrong to surmise that all medicines found to be adulterated with steroids and other poisonous elements were ayurvedic. "Patients who approach us for diagnosis are unwilling to admit they consulted a vaidya who prescribed them self-made medicines. It's not always necessary these medicines are ayurvedic and the RTI activist who got this information should not spread the wrong message among people that every ayurvedic medicine has been adulterated."

 Findings of tests conducted over 5 years
> Number of ayurvedic samples analysed for steroids: 244
> No of samples that tested positive for steroids: 96 (39.34%)
> Of these 96 samples, 18 contained more than one steroid
> The following steroids were detected: Betamethasone, Dexamethasone, Hydrocortisone and Prednisolone. 
> Number of ayurvedic samples analysed for above permissible limits (ABPL) heavy metal (Pb, Hg, As) contamination: 80
> Samples of heavy metals that was tested for ABPL: 42 (55%). Of these 42, two contained all the three heavy toxic metals

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