January 23, 2008

Toxic Traditional Medicines: Lead, Mercury and Arsenic Poisonings Widespread

ERV reported on a jaw-droppingly stupid and woo-full convention of anti-vaccination true-believers a couple of days ago. I suggest having a look at it to get an understanding of how bizarre these people and their claims can get. To hear them tell it, pediatricians are essentially a bunch of evil-doers out to wipe out as many children as they can. They seem intent on making up all kinds of stories about the contents of vaccines, mainly to sell books and land guest-spots on Oprah.

But there is a real problem with the content of medicines routinely being given to adults and children throughout the USA. It's not the medicine your doctor prescribes, though. It's the traditional folk remedies that many of these same woo-meisters swear by. It turns out that a good number of these "medicines" contain high levels of poisonous heavy metals. Taken together, they may account for as many as 30% of all of the lead poisoning cases reported in children when their parents finally take them to see real doctors.

Folk Medicines Contain Lead

Maria didn't mean to poison her children. Quite the opposite. Worried about her daughters' lack of appetite, the young Houston mother was merely following her grandmother's advice when she gave the two girls and a niece a dose of "greta" — a Mexican folk medicine used to treat children's stomach ailments.

What Maria, who asked that her last name not be used, did not know then, but now will never forget, is that the bright orange powder is nearly 90 percent lead.

Fortunately, doctors detected the dangerously high levels of the toxic metal in the little girls' blood during a routine checkup a week later.

But others are not so lucky. Health departments around the country say traditional medicines used by many immigrants from Latin America, India and other parts of Asia are the second most common source of lead poisoning in the U.S. — surpassed only by lead paint — and may account for tens of thousands of such cases among children each year.

Dozens of adults and children have become gravely ill or died after taking lead-laden medicine over the past eight years, according to federal and local health officials...

"No one's testing these medications," said Dr. Stefanos Kales, an assistant professor of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health who researched the problem. "There's no guarantee it doesn't have dangerous levels of lead."

Lead is added to many of the concoctions because of its supposed curative properties, even though doctors say it has no proven medical benefits. In other cases, powders and pills become contaminated with lead from soil or through the manufacturing process...

In Texas, California and Arizona, lead poisoning has been traced to Mexican remedies such as greta, azarcon and rueda — powders that are given to treat constipation in children and contain as much as 90 percent lead. In New York City and Rhode Island, high lead levels in the blood have been tied to litargirio, a powder containing up to 79 percent lead. It is used by Dominican immigrants for such ills as foot fungus and body odor.

Dangerous amounts of lead have also been found in ayurvedic medicines, which are used in India and commonly found in South Asian immigrant communities in New York, Chicago and Houston. These medicines include ghasard, a brown powder given to relieve constipation in babies, and mahayogaraj gugullu, for high blood pressure.

Traditional medicines may account for up to 30 percent of all childhood lead poisoning cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 240,000 U.S. children were diagnosed with high blood lead levels in 2004 to 2006.

Many more cases are almost certainly going undetected. Only 14 percent of children are tested for lead nationwide...

The use of folk medicine is rooted in generations-old cultural traditions. Ayurvedic medicine, for example, originated more than 2,000 years ago in India, where 80 percent of the population uses it.

"People think, well, my grandmother did it, so it's not a problem. It's extremely hard to change cultures and beliefs," said Brenda Reyes with the Houston Health Department...

In a 2004 study that found high concentrations of lead in ayurvedic medicine, Boston University researcher Robert Saper bought 70 different ayurvedic remedies at 30 stores within a 20-mile radius of Boston City Hall. One in five contained potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury and arsenic.

After Saper's study was released, health inspectors in Houston, Chicago, San Francisco and New York City conducted sweeps, and also discovered dangerous ayurvedic remedies on store shelves...

In 2004, the CDC reported 12 cases of lead poisoning associated with ayurvedic remedies in Texas, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and California. In one case, a 37-year-old woman, hospitalized with abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, reported taking five different traditional medications for rheumatoid arthritis...
30% of 240,000 is about 80,000 children that have been poisoned, and that's only lead poisoning and only those cases which have been diagnosed successfully by reputable health professionals who reported them to the proper authorities. One wonders how high this number might go when mercury and arsenic are added, not to mention cases in which the poisoned children never saw a doctor. Add in adults taking this rubbish and the possible numbers may be truly frightening. How many victims could there have been in those years? 400,000? 500,000?

Unlike the vaccination-frighteners' notions, this isn't speculative. These are real poisonings that become known precisely because the cases show the symptoms that are associated with heavy metal intoxication. No one has ever demonstrated a mechanism by which Thimerosal causes autism; the symptoms of mercury poisoning simply don't include the same, or even a subset of, the symptoms of autism. People who are taking traditional medicines, ayurvedic and otherwise, are exhibiting exactly the symptoms one would expect in an individual who swallowed a bunch of lead. There's nothing the least bit tenuous about that.

With all the fear and ignorance spread by those who profit from the denigration of science-based medicine, though, you can bet that there won't be any conventions being organized by the Woo Crew to halt the sale of these poisons. As the story tells us, people think that because something has been used for a long time, or because it's "natural," that means it's effective and safe. They'll go right on with their poisoning because they're so worried about "stealth viruses" that they're willing to swallow arsenic pills to avoid them.

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