Getting the Lead Out – Folk & Herbal Remedies

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

 

 

Name

 

 

Used to Treat

 

Origin

 

Notes

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
Anzroot Gastroenteritis Middle East
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
Deshi Dewa Fertility Asia,India
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
Kandu Stomachache Asian,India Red powder
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
Surma Teething powder 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.

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Comments

  1. Susan P says:

    Do you know if herbs are certified organic are they less likely to have lead? I had some herbs (guglu) prescribed by an Ayurvedic Dr. But I already have high lead levels. I imagine the best would be to contact the supplier I got it from. Do you know of any home tests that can detect lead in herbs? Thanks for the insight!

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  1. [...] When I learned about Earth Mama Angel Baby’s new Herb Gallery and accompanying Herbal First Aid Kit I was thrilled. So many people in this day and age (including me) have lost the knowledge of herbal medicine that can provide natural relief when injured or ill. There are so many safe, natural ways to alleviate symptoms if you just know what to use. That knowledge is key however, because even natural ingredients and plants can cause harm. [...]

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