Monitoring of mercury, arsenic, and lead in traditional Asian herbal preparations on the Dutch market and estimation of associated risks

Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (VWA), NL-5600 CD Eindhoven, The Netherlands.
Food Additives and Contaminants - Part A Chemistry, Analysis, Control, Exposure and Risk Assessment (Impact Factor: 1.8). 10/2009; 27(2):190-205. DOI: 10.1080/02652030903207235
Source: PubMed


Traditional herbal preparations used in Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Tibetan medicine, and other Asian traditional medicine systems may contain significant amounts of mercury, arsenic or lead. Though deliberately incorporated in Asian traditional herbal preparations for therapeutic purposes, these constituents have caused intoxications worldwide. The aim of this study was therefore to determine mercury, arsenic, and lead levels in Asian traditional herbal preparations on the Dutch market. A total of 292 traditional herbal preparations used in Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, and traditional Tibetan medicine were sampled between 2004 and 2007. Samples were mostly multi-ingredient traditional herbal preparations containing herbs and minerals. The labeling of less than 20% of the traditional herbal preparations suggested the presence of mercury, arsenic or lead. These elements were shown by inductively coupled mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) in 186 (64%) of 292 traditional herbal preparations. Estimated weekly mercury, arsenic, and lead intake levels were calculated for each traditional herbal preparation from the analytically determined concentrations and the recommended dose. A total of 59 traditional herbal preparations (20%) were likely to result in intakes of these elements significantly exceeding safety limits. Of these 59 traditional herbal preparations, intake estimates for 50 traditional herbal preparations significantly exceeded the safety limit for mercury (range = 1.4-1747 mg week(-1)); intake estimates for 26 traditional herbal preparations significantly exceeded the safety limit for arsenic (range = 0.53-427 mg week(-1)) and intake estimates for eight traditional herbal preparations were significantly above the safety limit for lead (range = 2.6-192 mg week(-1)). It is concluded that the mercury, arsenic, and lead contents of traditional herbal preparations used in Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, and traditional Tibetan medicine remain a cause for concern and require strict control.

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Available from: Erik J M Konings, Feb 27, 2014
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    • "Some traditional Chinese herbal medicine, traditional Tibetan medicine and other Asian traditional medicine systems were found to contain significant amounts of mercury, arsenic or lead (Martena et al., 2010). It has been shown that herbal remedies incorporated in Asian traditional herbal preparation for therapeutic purposes caused intoxications in users (Martena et al., 2010; Robert et al., 2008). "
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    • "Several studies have shown that CHMs and other botanical supplements may be contaminated with heavy metals, and in some cases at toxic levels (Ernst, 2002; Ernst and Coon, 2001; Lin et al., 2010). Much of what has been reported regarding potentially worrisome contamination in herbal medicines relates to patent or proprietary medicines (Ang et al., 2003; Au et al., 2000; Cooper et al., 2007; Dolan et al., 2003; Ernst, 2002; Ko, 1998; Koh and Woo, 2000; Martena et al., 2010; Raman et al., 2004; Saper et al., 2004), which differ from raw herbs in that they are frequently a mix of different substances (e.g., plant, mineral, animal) in either pill or extract form (Yee et al., 2005). Patent herbal medicines may contain heavy metals that were intentionally added, such as arsenic (Liu et al., 2008a), mercury (Liu et al., 2008b), and lead (Saper et al., 2008). "
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