Healthy living often includes considering natural or herbal remedies for getting and/or staying well. I’ve blogged before about how I have been growing and drying my own herbs for use in teas, tinctures, salves and other applications. However, several commonly used traditional and folk remedies have been found to contain lead. Some are contaminated with lead from the manufacturing process or soils. Some are made of lead or lead salts. For example, greta is a traditional Mexican folk remedy commonly used to treat children’s stomach ailments. But, greta can contain as much as 90% lead, and can poison children, instead of making them better.
Reports of children being poisoned by folk remedies are more common then you would think. One story expressed a young mother’s grief and guilt over poisoning her two children and a niece with greta. She gave it to them to help with stomach problems. She is quoted as saying “[i]nstead of doing something good for them, I did them more harm.” Luckily, the high levels of lead were detected a week later during a routine checkup. The children have reportedly suffered no ill effects.
Traditional and folk remedies are the second most common source of lead poisoning in the United States. The CDC estimates that traditional or folk remedies may account for as much as 30% of all childhood lead poisoning cases in the US. But, it is suspected that many cases go undetected. Many doctors don’t ask about alternative medicines, and most people don’t volunteer the information. And only about 14% of children are tested for lead.
Many of these remedies are manufactured outside the US and purchased in ethnic grocery stores and neighborhood shops, or brought into the US by travelers. These remedies are often cultural traditions, handed down by generations. For example, ayurvedic remedies have been used in India for at least the last 2,000 years. But, one survey of ayurvedic remedies sold in the Boston area found that 20% of them contained potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury and arsenic.
Many people think “my grandmother used it, so it must be okay.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it safe. The traditional or home remedies can cause serious cases of lead poisoning because the lead concentration is often very high and the medicine is intentionally swallowed.
So, since you can’t tell just by looking at a folk or herbal remedy whether it contains lead or another potentially harmful ingredient, do a little bit of research before taking a folk or herbal remedy. Following is a list of common herbal or folk remedies that have been found to contain harmful ingredients – but this list isn’t comprehensive.
Alternative or Folk Remedies and Cosmetics Found to Have Lead Present
Used to Treat
|Al Murrah||Colic, stomachache, diarrhea||Saudi Arabia|
|Albayalde or albayaidle||Vomiting, colic, apathy, lethargy||Mexico,Central America|
|Alkohl (also known as kohl, surma or saoott)||Umbilical stump remedy (also used as a cosmetic)||Middle East,Africa,Asia||Can contain up to 83% lead|
|An Kung Niu Huan Wan||China|
|Ayurvedic remedies including Guglu (reports of 14,000 ppm lead), Sundari Kalp (pill, reports of up to 96,000 ppm lead), and Jambrulin (reports of 44,000 ppm lead)[iii]||India|
|Azarcon (also known as rueda, liga, coral, Alarcon and Maria Luisa)||Empacho, vomiting, diarrhea||95% lead|
|Ba Bow Sen (also known as Ba Baw San or Ba Baw Sen)||Colic, hyperactivity, nightmares and to detoxify “fetus poisoning”||China|
|Bal Chamcha||Liver problems, digestion, teething, milk intolerance, irregular stools, bloating, colic, poor sleep, poor dentition, myalgia||India|
|Bal Jivan||Baby tonic||India|
|Bala Goli (also known as Fita)||Stomachache, often dissolved in gripe water||Asia,India|
|Bala Guta||Children’s tonic||India|
|Bala Sogathi||Improve growth, teething, coug, cold, fever, diarrhea||India|
|Balguti Kesaria||For children and infants||India|
|Bao Ning Dan||Acne, pain, removing toxins||China|
|Bezoar Sedative Pills||China|
|Bint al zahab (also known as bint or bent)||Diarrhea, colic, constipation and general neonatal uses||Saudi Arabia,OmanandIndia|
|Bint Dahab||Saudi Arabia|
|Bokhoor (and noqd)||Calming||Kuwait|
|Cebagin||Teething powder||Middle East|
|Chuifong tokuwan||Hong Kong|
|Cordyceps||Hypertension, diabetes, bleeding||China|
|Emperor’s Tea Pill||Maintain body’s natural balance||China|
|Farouk||Teething powder||Saudi Arabia|
|Ghazard (also known as Ghasard or Qhasard)||Digestion, relieve constipation in babies||Asia,India|
|Greta||Digestive problems||Mexico||97% lead|
|Hai Ge Fen||China||Powder added to tea|
|Hepatico Extract||Healthy liver and promote regularity||China|
|Jeu Wo Dan||Cast dressing||China|
|Jim Bu Huan||Pain||China|
|Koo Sar (or Koo Soo) Pills||Menstrual cramps||China||Lead believed to be present in red dye|
|Kohl (also known as Alkohl)||Cosmetic, skin infections|
|Kushta||Diseases of the heart, brain, liver, and stomach, aphrodisiac||India,Pakistan|
|Litargirio||Deodorant, foot fungicide, burns, wound healing||Dominican Republic||Approx. 80% lead|
|Lu Shen Wan||China|
|Mahayogaraj gugullu||High blood pressure||India|
|Mahalakshmi Vilas Ras with gold||Cold related symptoms, blood deficiency, wound healing, asthma||India|
|Navratna Rasa||General debility, rickets, calcium deficiency||India|
|Ng Chung Brand Tik Dak Win||China|
|Pay-loo-ah||Rash, fever||Southeast Asia|
|PoYing Tan||Minor ailments||China|
|Qing Fen||Cast dressing, pain||China|
|Santrinj||Teething remedy||Saudi Arabia||98% lead|
|Sundari Kalp||Menstrual health||India|
|Swarna Mahayograj Guggula with gold||Rheumatism, gas, menstrual cycles, progesterone deficiency, mental disorders, fertility, menopause||India|
|Tibetan herbal vitamin||Strengthen brain (remedy for mental retardation)||India|
|White Peony Scar Repairing Pills||Scar||Hong Kong|
|Zhui Feng Tou Gu Wan||Bone ailments, joint pain, numbness||China|
Lead in Folk Remedies: Smart Mama’s Simple Steps To Reduce Exposure
Skip the remedy. If you don’t know whether it is safe or no, skip the remedy. I understand that many of these remedies have been used for generations. But, they can contain high levels of lead. If you don’t know whether they are safe or not, then skip them.
Discuss with caregivers. Discuss medications and remedies with all caregivers, including remedies. Make sure your caregivers, including your relatives, do not provide any medical care, including home remedies, without checking with you.