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.

CPSIA Costs Not Justified If Helping Our Kids Is The Goal

Amend the CPSIA? Stop funding for the database? Hell yes.

Now, that may surprise you given my obvious desire to make this world a little bit safer for our kids. But, I think the  Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) needs quite a bit of fixing. In fact, if I had my choice, I would start over.

See, even though the CPSIA does limit lead, it does so without consideration for exposure or risk. That means that true lead crystals – such as the brilliant sparkling Swarovski crystals – are banned, since they have about 24% lead (or 240,000 ppm lead), well above the CPSIA’s current limit of 300 ppm for children’s product. That means that those true lead crystals are banned on all children’s products – from t-shirts to ice skating uniforms.

And, the CPSIA does a lot more than that, which an editorial in the New York Times seems not to understand. At all. The law isn’t limited to lead in children’s toys. It limits lead in children’s product. That means all children’s products must be certified by a third party that they meet the lead content limit, or the components used must be deemed compliant (okay, so the certification is stayed right now for products except for lead in paint/coatings and metal children’s jewelry but someday all products will require that third party accrediation). It also requires testing and certification for all consumer products under the CPSC’s jurisdiction for which there is a safety standard. So, for example, manufacturers are supposed to be certifying adult apparel as compliant with the flammability requirement, even if the manufacturer is just certifying that the fabric meets the weight exemption. It has tracking label requirements. It has a public database. It has a heck of a lot of requirements – much more than so called safer toys.

But the New York Times editorial says that is okay. The costs of the CPSIA “must be set against the enormous costs incurred by families and a society when a child is poisoned or hurt by a dangerous toy.”

If that is really the justification – the enoromous costs incurred by families and a society when a child is poisoned – than our efforts are better spent addressing the much more significant cause of childhood lead poisoning – older housing and buildings coated with lead paint. Nobody disputes that the number one cause of childhood lead poisoning is lead based paint in our older houses and buildings. Depending on whose numbers are used, between 75% and 85% of all childhood lead poisoning is linked to lead based paint in houses and buildings.

Take, for example, 3 year old Miguel de la Cruz, poisoned by lead dust created by years of opening and closing the windows of the older bungalow in which his family lived.

Or 6 year old Matthew, lead poisoned after mouthing the windowsill in his room.

Understand that 1 in 4 children in the US live in homes that pre-date the ban on the use of lead based paint in homes. And lead is also tracked into our homes from soil since lead was used for years as an additive in gasoline and blown in and tracked in from weathering of buildings and structures that use (and still may use) lead paint.

All the money spent on the CPSIA would be much better spent addressing the lead based paint hazards in our older homes, and providing education and outreach on how to live healthy in an older home.

I don’t dismiss the tragic death of 4 year old Jarnell Brown. He died after swallowing a heart-shaped pendant on a bracelet given away with a pair of Reebok shoes. But the situation of Jarnell Brown isn’t even addressed by the CPSIA specifically because the bracelent was intended for an adult. It wasn’t a children’s product so the CPSIA lead content limits wouldn’t even apply.

If the CPSIA was drafted properly, it would address actual risks and exposures.

Lead used in jewelry items intended for children would be banned because it is likely that children will mouth or swallow such items.

Lead used in PVC products intended for children would be banned because it is likely that children will transfer lead dust to their mouths as the product wears, or that younger children will mouth the PVC items.

Lead in Swarovski crystals? Not really an issue. I don’t think anybody is going to swallow enough lead crystal to make a different.

Lead in component parts of ATVs, bicycles and other such producs? Not really an issue, unless the lead is in a PVC grip on the handle bar.

 It seems to me that the critical goal is to make the world a safer place for our children. We should spend our money and time doing just that. Not banning bling.

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

Did you know that even today, childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children?

That even today, nearly a quarter of a million children in the US have blood lead levels high enough to cause significant damage to their health. And this is based upon an action level of 10 ug lead per dL of blood. Studies in the last 10 years show that blood lead levels significant lower cause permanent health problems, so the number of at risk kids is actually greater.

Children with elevated blood lead levels can suffer damage to the brain and nervous system. They can develop behavior and learning problems, such as learning disabilities, decreased intelligence, speech problems, language problems, poor muscle coordination, hyperactivity, slowed growth and other health problems.

Most of us dismiss the risk of exposure to lead. And yet. Lead exposure still occurs. In Nigeria right now, more than 400 kids have been killed from lead poisoning as a result of gold mining, and more than 30,000 people have been poisoned. A tragedy of horrific, immense proportions.

Yet lead poisoning doesn’t really occur in the United States still. Yes, it still does, even if your kids don’t lick the paint on the walls. Take a family in Tennessee living in a rental house built before 1978. They have discovered that all 3 children have elevated blood lead levels – child that is 12 has a BLL of 14, child that is 11 has a BLL of 8 and child that is 7 has a BLL of 21.7.

Or take the story of 8 month old Oskar Ryan-Garrad. He didn’t lick the walls. He didn’t eat paint chips. He didn’t suck or swallow lead contaminated toys. He simply acted like any baby and crawled around his home – a home constructed in the early 1900s. An optional blood draw found dangerously high levels of lead in his blood.

A risk assessor found lead laden dust on the windowsills of Oskar’s home, and on the floor and porch where he played. And his dad, a house painter, had lead dust on his clothes.

Monday kicked of National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, and it is a great time to talk about how to reduce lead exposure. You can take some simple steps to reduce lead.

  • Wash your hands and get your kids to do so too! Easy, peasy step – washing your hands regularly with plain soap and water can reduce lead exposure. We pick up lead contaminated dust from lots of sources – washing it away means that we don’t get exposed.
  • Leave those shoes outside. We track in the bulk of the dirt in our home from outside. And with that dirt comes lead, cadmium, pesticides and more. Leaving your shoes at the door means that the dirt and the lead and other nasty stuff doesn’t come inside. One study found the checking shoes at the door can reduce exposure to lead by as much as 65%.
  • If your home was constructed before 1978, you may have lead based paint. Be careful of peeling and chipping paint – take care of it safely or at least make in inaccessible to kids. But even if your paint is in good condition, you can have lead contaminated dust. So make sure you wet wipe regularly and use a HEPA equipped vaccuum to keep dust bunnies down.
  • If your water pipes are older, you may have lead solder present, or even lead pipes. You can test your water with a simple home test kit that you mail to a laboratory. If you do have lead in your drinking water, consider a filter designed to remove lead. If you suspect lead in your water, one thing is to flush your pipes before drinking when the water sits for more than 6 hours. Just wait until you feel that slight temperature change.
  • If any adult in the home engages in an industry that results in lead exposure (construction, demolition, etc.), change your clothes and shoes before your come inside, and preferably before you get in the family car, so that you don’t bring lead contaminated dust home.
  • Skip vinyl products. Vinyl needs to be stabilized, and metallic salts are usually used to stabilize vinyl. Lead is often used. It doesn’t matter if you don’t suck on your fake leather (vinyl) purse – handling it can result in transfer from your hands to your mouth, or from your hands to your kids to their mouths, or from the purse directly to your kids hands and then their mouths.
  • Don’t give infants brass keys to soothe them. Brass can have lead added, and infants can be exposed as they mouth brass keeys.

Is that Siren Red Lipstick Toxic?

The urban legends website, Snopes.com, indicates the lead contaminated lipstick emails have been circulating since 2003.  At least one of those emails discusses a "sure fire" test involving a gold ring to detect lead in lipstick.  Be warned:  this test method is false.  It does not detect the presence of lead in lipstick.  But, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' report indicates at least some lead contaminated lipsticks are available on the marketplace.  Also, several Proposition 65 lawsuits (Proposition 65 is a California law) have indicated that testing have revealed the presence of lead in cosmetics, including lipstick.

For most of us, lead in lipstick may not be a big concern.  But if you are pregnant, or have small children, you might want to re-think that red lipstick.  Although, to be honest, if you are pregnant or have small children, you probably don't have time for a night on the town.  I don't think I even know where my favorite red lipstick is . . .

New round of toy recalls for lead paint – what’s a parent to do?

That's hard to say. 

It is certain that lead can cause brain damage, lowering IQs and causing developmental delays, amont other health effects.  Very high levels of lead can cause death, such as a child swallowing a lead jewelry charm (as unfortunately happened last year).  Recent health studies have demonstrated that even low blood lead levels (below the current level of 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood) can cause signicant health problems, including lowered IQ.  The recent consensus is that there is no safe level of lead in the blood.

But how much lead do children get from toys?  That's hard to say.  There is no reliable way for a parent to know how much lead is in a particular toy.  The lead check test kits tell you whether lead is present or not, but don't tell you how much.  And it is difficult to assess how much exposure a child gets from handling or mouthing the toy.

Lead exposure is also cumulative, and there are many other sources.  Lead is present in homes from historic use in paint.  This is probably the most significant source.  We also get lead contaminated dust blown into our homes from weathering from homes, bridges, and other structures, and its use in gasoline.  Lead is present in drinking water.  Lead is found in high levels in some herbal remedies.  It is used to stabilize polyvinyl chloride plastic.  We also bring lead into the home from occupational exposure and hobbies.

So, what can you do to reduce expoure?  The simplest solution is eliminate sources.  If you work in a field that may have lead exposure, change your clothes and your shoes before you enter the home.  To avoid tracking in lead contaminated dust, use a good welcome mat or take off your shoes.  If you have an older home (built before 1978) and have lead paint, keep your paint in good condition.  Do not renovate, remodel, sand, etc., without addressing the lead paint.  Wash your hands frequently to remove lead dust.  Wet wipe surfaces to remove lead dust.  And, difficult as it may be, get rid of any recalled toys.  You may also want to check other toys for lead.

LEAD: Simple Steps to Reduce Lead Exposure in the Home

Looking for some simple steps to reduce lead exposure in the home?  You’ve come to the right place.


Lead in the home can come froma variety of sources.  The largest source is lead based paint used prior to 1978.  Another source is someone who brings lead into the home from work or a hobby.  Wind blown dust is also a source.  Lead is deposited in soils in our environment from its historical use in gasoline.  But lead also ends up in our soils from weathering of buildings, bridges and other structures and from industrial sources such as lead smelters, hazardous waste sites and construction.  This lead contaminated dust can be tracked into our homes on our shoes, or can be blown into our homes.  Other sources include painted toys, certain hobbies, and old mini blinds and other polyvinyl chloride products.  Some jewelry, herbal remedies and candies also have lead, but those sources generally aren’t a major contributor to dust in the home (although they can pose a significant risk of exposure since they can be ingested).


If you have a home built prior to 1978 and the paint is in poor condition, the paint must be addressed.  Paint in good condition doesn’t usually pose a risk, except around friction points (door and window jambs) or if you are going to be remodeling.


In the interim, here are some simple steps to reduce exposure:  




  • Get your home tested.  If you are concerned, you may want to get your home tested.  Testing can be expensive.  There are some home based lead check test kits.  But, these are not recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because they cannot distinguish between high and low levels of lead.  They generally work by rubbing a swab on the surface.  The tip changes color if lead is present.  They tell you only whether lead is present.  They cannot detect paint below the surface.  The EPA doesn’t recommend them also because they can give both false positives and false negatives.  However, they are a quick, inexpensive initial screen to detect problems.  Another relativaly inexpensive, but more accurate test, is a lead dust wipe.  With a lead dust wipe, you collect a wipe sample pursuant to a specified procedure and send it to a certified laboratory.  These can tell you more accurately the levels of lead present in surface dust.  The National Safety Council offers a lead dust test kit that includes everything needed to determine the presence of lead in the home.  Download the form at http://www.nsc.org/issues/lead/orderformleadkits.pdf.


  • Wet wipe regularly.  Lead dust is very fine, is invisible to the the eye, and tends to stick to surfaces.  You need to wet wipe, but don’t use scouring pads or abrasive cleans.  Use a soft cloth or wipe, and an all purpose cleaner.  Make sure you always have a clean surface –  you don’t want to just spread the dust around.  Wet wash by making a soapy solution using a small amount of soap.  If you are pretty sure you have lead dust present and want to do a base cleaning, follow this:  create a mild soapy solution.  Use a disposable paper towel to dip into the soapy solution and then wipe the surface clean.  Throw away the towel and start again with a new one until the whole area is clean.  Follow this cleaning up with new paper towels wet with fresh water and wipe the surface again to get the soap residue and any remaining dust off of the surface.  Use this three-step process to clean one room in the house at a time before moving on to the next room. 


  • Vacuum properly.  Use a vacuum equipped with a  high efficiency particular air (HEPA) filter.  A HEPA filter is a special filter that can trap very fine dust particles.  Vacuuming with a regular household vacuum will not remove the very small dust particles in the home that can poison children.  Much of the dust that is picked up is blown back out the exhaust of the vacuum, which resettles on toys, furniture, and floors where small children become exposed.  A vacuum with a dirt finder (a light that tells you where the dirt is) can save you time, and a vacuum with a power brush/head is six times more effective than a vacuum without a power brush/head.  If the whole house is being HEPA vacuumed for the first time, start in the room farthest from the main entrance/exit door so that dirt is not tracked into areas that have already been HEPA cleaned.  Vacuum from room to room working toward the main entrance/exit door and finish there.  If only one room is being HEPA vacuumed, work from the farthest area from the door and finish at the doorway.  A dust guru recommends this time-consuming process: to remove the deep dust, each week make 25 passes over the door mat and the area of the rug within four feet of the main entrance doors, 16 passes over areas that receive a lot of foot traffic, and eight passes over the rest of the carpet.  After vacuuming this way for a few weeks, you can switch to weekly vacuuming with one half the passes.  If you can’t manage that, then at least do a deep clean in the room in which your baby spends the most time (and I can’t imagine having that much time).


  • Wash your hands and make sure your children wash their hands too!  Washing hands can remove lead contaminated dust.



  • Maintain your paint.  If your home was built before 1978, keep your paint well maintained.  Adjust any doors or windows that may be rubbing.  Just make sure you do this safely.


  • Abate the lead.  You can consider permanently eliminating lead based paint hazards in older homes.  There are four options:  replacement of lead painted items, enclosure of lead painted surfaces, such as by installing dry wall over painted surface, encapsulation of lead painted surfaces using a special coating designed to encapsulated lead, or removal of lead based paint.  Abatement must be done be a certified contractor.  If you have an older home, do not renovate/remodel without addressing lead based paint hazards and the generation of lead dust.


  • Plant shrubs.  If you have an older home, with dirt close to the home under windows, consider planting shrubs in these areas to prevent your baby from playing in the dirt.  Dirt under “friction points” in older homes is more likely to be contaminated with lead.


  • Import clean topsoil.  If you garden and your home was built before 1978, bring in clean topsoil for your garden.   


  • Buy a good quality doormat or take off your shoes.  This will keep dust from being tracked into the home.  Supposedly, 80% of the dirt in our homes comes from outside.  So, keep it out!

Getting Real About Risk – Thinking Outside The Toxic Toy Box

Everybody is concerned about lead on toys, but lead exposure is more likely from other sources. So you have to think outside the toy box if you want to reduce lead exposure.

First, figure out whether you may have lead paint where you live or where your child spends a significant amount of time (grandma’s house, daycare, preschool, etc.).  If the home (or daycare or school) was constructed prior to 1978, it is likely that lead paint was used.  Lead paint was banned in 1978. 

If you aren’t sure, you can have your home inspected.  Different types of inspections eist.  The first type is a lead hazard screen.  In this inspection, the inspector determines whether a home has a potential for lead hazards.  The second inspection type will sample paint surfaces in the home to determine the presence and location of lead paint hazards  This will tell you whether lead paint exists in the home, but won’t make recommendations as to what to do or how much of a risk there is.  The last type is a risk assessment, which evaluates the risks associated with the lead found in the home.

So you  have lead in your home, or you are pretty sure you have lead in your home, what do you do?  If the paint is in poor condition (chipped, worn, flaking, etc.), then it needs to be addressed.  Don’t do it yourself – you need to have a professional take care of it.  If you can’t take care of it right now, you can still take some simple steps to reduce exposure.  These interim steps can substantially reduce exposure.   Also, depending on where you live, there are some programs that provide financial assistance for lead paint abatement. 

Even if the paint is in good condition, it can be a problem if it is present on surfaces that children chew on, such as railings, or that experience friction, such as door and window jambs where painted surfaces rub against one another can create lead contaminated dust.

Having a new home doesn’t mean you are home free.  Even if your home was built after 1978, you may still have lead in your household dust.  Lead is present in our soils from its former use in gasoline, from weathering or chipping of lead paint from buildings, bridges, and other structures, and from industrial sources such as lead smelters, hazardous waste sites, battery manufacturing facilities, construction sites, and garages working with car batteries, among others.  This dust is blown into our homes, day care centers, schools and work environments.  A study reported in Environmental Health Perspectives found that wind blown contamianted dust may be a significant source of lead poisoning for children living in cities.  The study was able to correlate children’s blood lead levels with certain weather conditions that were positive for blowing dust.

Blood lead levels – what is safe?

The question facing parents is whether their children are at risk.  Unfortunately, despite regulatory efforts and successful bans of lead paint and lead as a gasoline additive, lead remains a preventable childhood poisoning.  Don’t get me wrong – children’s exposure to lead has been significantly reduced.  Nonetheless, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s recent figures indicate that 1 out of every 10 children in the United States has a blood lead level greater 5 micrograms (ug)/deciliter (dL).  Now, this is below the current International and federal standard of 10 ug/dL, but that standard has been questioned.  Recent research, including a five year study published in The New England Journal of Medicine on April 17, 2007, found that most of the damage to a child’s intellectual functioning, measured by IQ testing, occurred at blood lead level concentrations below 10 ug/dL.  A report from the Work Group of the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention to the Centers for Disease Control concluded that the overall weight of available evidence supports the finding that blood lead levels below the supposed “safe” level of 10 ug/dL have a negative impact on children’s cognitive development.  The recent research suggests that health effects can occur at blood lead levels as low as 2.5 ug/dL.  Next blog will look at sources of lead in the home. 

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