Heavy metals: Are they really heavy on human body?
Ayurveda is knowledge about healthy prolongation of life (Ayu + Veda). Is it possible that the Spiritual Gurus who unveiled this treasure to the ailing humanity could have made this blunder and reduce the life of a person?
The answer is bold - NO.
Those who do not understand the viewpoint of Ayurveda and the ones who do not want to understand it says so.
Let's see what exactly the definition of Heavy metals is?
There is no consensus on a scientifically valid definition of heavy metals!
There is a layman tendency, unsupported by the facts to assume that all the so called heavy metals and their compounds are highly toxic or have eco-toxic properties .Their is no basis in chemical or toxicological data. Thus the term heavy metal is both misleading and meaningless. (John H.duffus; Pure & Applied Chemistry.74i793-807)
In the earliest reference of Heavy metals, Bjerrume's Inorganic Chemistry -1936, he defined "Heavy metals as metals having density greater than 4 gm/cm". (It simply means any metal which is 4 times heavier than water should be called as heavy metal. Consider Silver is a heavy metal). However it was never used as a formal or official definition. This is because there is no relationship between the density and any reactive properties associated with metals, or any other element in the periodic table.
Later on it was redefined on the basis of gram atomic weight and if you call this an official one, both Magnesium and Potassium are classified as heavy metals. The confusion keeps on increasing, when you find that the most referred book on toxicology Casarretl and Doull's toxicology never used the term Heavy Metal. Now you are confused as the rest of the medical faculty of the world lets find out the real truth.
All metals are present in the earth's crust and enter our bodies continuously at low levels. It is a common mistake, based on fear and misinformation, to believe that a toxin has a linear toxic effect down to the lowest levels. All toxins have a safe threshold below which there is no toxicity. In fact, below a safe threshold toxicity disappears and there is no toxicity at all - and in some cases even benefit exists. Mercury is most widely used metal in Rasa-Shastra discipline of Ayurveda and to some extent most controversial also. Recent developments have highlighted the need to research whether it should be used at all. Let's gather all the relevant scientific data and accept it as truth.
How Can Mercury Enter and Leave our Body?
A person can be exposed to mercury from breathing in contaminated air, from swallowing or eating contaminated water or food, or from having skin contact with mercury. Not all forms of mercury easily enter your body, even if they come in contact with it; so it is important to know which form of mercury you have been exposed to, and by which route (air, food, or skin).
When you swallow small amounts of metallic mercury, for example, from a broken oral thermometer, virtually none (less than 0.01%) of the mercury will enter your body through the stomach or intestines, unless they are diseased. Even when large amount of metal mercury (a half of a tablespoon, about 204 grams) was swallowed by one person, very little entered the body.
What Happens to It in the Body?
Inhalation - 80% is absorbed.
Following ingestion, Absorption is
1. Less than 0.01% for metallic mercury,
2. Less than 10% for inorganic mercury (mercury used in Ayurvedic medicine),
3. More than 95% for organic mercury (methyl mercury).
Mercury can also be absorbed through the skin, but the amount is small compared to breathing or swallowing it. (The "true absorption" of a single oral dose of HgCl2 was calculated to be about 20% at two different dose levels).
Mercury in the Bloodstream
Methyl mercury (organic form) is the form of mercury most easily absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract (about 95% absorbed). After you eat fish or other foods that are contaminated with methyl mercury, the methyl mercury enters your bloodstream easily and goes rapidly to other parts of your body. Only small amounts of methyl mercury enter the bloodstream directly through the skin, but other forms of organic mercury (in particular dimethyl mercury) can rapidly enter the body through the skin.
From Mother to Fetus
There is no clear evidence that exposure to mercury or inorganic mercury compounds has adverse effects on the developing fetus. However exposure to organic mercury compounds can slow the growth of unborn baby and disrupt the nervous system. Organic mercury can be transferred from blood to milk posing the risk to new-born baby. (Pregnant workers information leaflet for notification of pregnancy. Govt. of U.K.)
What is around us Cannot be Ignored
In the air we breathe,
(The five super thermal power plants in the Singrauli area, which supply 10 per cent of India's power, are responsible for 16.85 percent or 10 tonnes per annum of total mercury pollution . . through power generation. "A typical 100-megawatt thermal . power plant can emit over 10 kg of mercury in a single year. . . About 200 metric tonnes of toxic mercury escapes from industrial. . Chimneys and effluents each year in India, "said Anil Gautam,. . People's Science Institute (PSI), a Dehra Doon based research. . Organization.)
In the food we eat
(Growing research shows a clear relationship between. . fish (tuna etc), Dental amalgams (MERCURY +SILVER) and the presence of mercury in body organs. It also links mercury fillings to autism and Alzheimer's. This is continuous source of mercury poisoning)
It is not possible to totally eliminate all exposure. The goal is to stay below a toxic threshold.
It is not true that there's no "safe" level for mercury.
At what level does mercury become harmful?
The World Health Organization's guidelines maintain that the lowest level that could possibly be harmful to humans is 5 parts per million (ppm). This level is based on scientific results from the 1960s that placed the level at which risk begins at 50 ppm for most people; WHO then applied a safety factor of 10, deciding that a level of 5 or less is safe for even the most vulnerable populations.
Now the University of Rochester team has conducted an extensive study in the Seychelles Islands of the most sensitive population -- young children -- where the average level is about 7 ppm, about 10 times the level of the U.S. population. The scientists found no harm from mercury at levels up to 15 ppm, nearly twice the average Seychelles level and about 20 times higher than the average U.S. level. Despite those reports, hair analysis laboratories in the U.S. continue to report of toxicity at only 1 ppm.
Hair mercury is considered a valid test if properly performed. The recent Seychelles Island study showed that hair mercury below 15 g/g (mean 6.9 ppm, SD 4.5 ppm) did not cause any problems in pregnant mothers or their newborn infants, who were followed with extensive neurological testing for many years from birth onwards. The diet contained ocean fish 12 meals per week. The fish contained the same amount of methyl mercury as found elsewhere in the world.
Laboratory Reference Ranges
for Toxic Metals in Blood and Urine
Random urine < 5 g/g creatinine (Not provoked with a chelator).
Occupational limit in urine of exposed workers < 35 g/g creatinine (Not provoked with a chelator)
Whole blood < 8.0 g/L
Occupational limit in exposed workers < 15.0 g/L.
Hair <15 g/g (g/g = ppm)
Environmental exposure: < 8.0 g/L, individuals consuming large quantities of seafood may have values as high as 200.0 g/L.
Occupational exposure: BEI: inorganic mercury (sampling time is end of shift at end of work week): <15.0 g/L1
Some Common Mistakes
Reference ranges for upper safe limits for metals, including mercury in urine, are often printed on laboratory report forms with ranges that apply only to urine collected without first giving a chelator. The safe upper limit on the report form will thus be much higher after a chelator. If proper procedures are followed, a large majority of people tested will be in the nontoxic range.
By provoking urine excretion with a chelator, metals in urine will always increase, by up to 1,000% or more, even if levels in the body are at quite safe and low levels. The result therefore, usually appears deceptively high. That type of report is meaningless and can frighten patients into thinking they are toxic when their levels are actually quite safe.
Methyl mercury and HgS was orally administrated to mice for five consecutive days.
The present study suggests that the insoluble HgS (the main constituent of a Chinese mineral drug, cinnabar, used as a sedative) can still be absorbed from gastrointestinal tract and distributed to various tissues including the brain.
As compared with methyl mercury, the total amount of HgS accumulated in the tissues ranging is about one five-thousandth of methyl mercury, which is well correlated with the biological activity of HgS reported previously.
(Tissue distribution of different mercurial compounds analyzed by the improved FI-CVAAS. Yen CC, Liu SH, Chen WK, Lin RH, Lin-Shiau SY. Institute of Toxicology, College of Medicine, National Taiwan University, Taipei.) PMID: 12166816 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] HgS or cinnabar was administered orally (1.0 g/kg) to Hartley-strain guinea pigs once daily for 7 consecutive days. A battery of electrophysiological, biochemical, and histopathological examinations were performed.
Conclusion The increased Hg contents in the cerebellum following oral administration of HgS and cinnabar were responsible, at least in part, for the detrimental neurotoxic effect on the VOR (vestibular ocular reflex system).
Young YH, Chuu JJ, Liu SH, Lin-Shiau SY.
Neurotoxic mechanism of cinnabar and mercuric sulfide on the vestibulo-ocular reflex system of guinea pigs. Department of Otolaryngology, National Taiwan University Hospital, No. 1 Section 1, Jen-Ai Road, Taipei, Taiwan. PMID: 12011485 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Purification of Ayurvedic Mercurial Preparations
From my personal scientific perspective these detoxifications do not have anything mystical or magical about them. All the described processes lead to the elimination of impurities through mechanical/chemical treatment of the mercury, which is then followed by a prolonged heat treatment. Sulphur is added through which process mostly the inert Compound is obtained.
Metals of Ayurveda behave differently than their counter parts in modern Medicine.
Phenomenon of Isomerism
Kajjali and Parpati have different actions o the body although both of them are black sulphide of mercury. The difference between them is them is the Sanskara (processing). The preparation of Kajjali does not involve heating while rasa-parpati is obtained after heating Kajjali.
Patients allergic to modern sulpha drugs do not show allergic reaction when Gandhaka Rasayana is given (the difference is processing, Ayurvedic Sulphur compounds are purified and prepared as per Ayurvedic texts). The daily dosage during an Ayurvedic treatment is about 30-40 mg of mercuric sulphide. This usually is given in combination with processed aconite (and together with the fruit of Terminalia chebula etc.)
It is believed that metals in Ayurvedic preparations exist in complex ionic redicular form due to unique heat processing and herbal treatment. e.g. Loha Bhasma does not give positive test by routine method of testing for iron i.e. with Sodium Carbonate, Potassium Sulpho cyanide and Potassium ferro cyanide. Nitric acid is required to get the positive result for the presence of iron .Nitric acid breaks the complex iron radicle in to a simpler radicle.
(One Tibetan Dschu-Mar 25 jewel-pill contains (depending on its origin) according to analysis between 10-50 mg Cinnabar which corresponds closely to the Ayurvedic prescriptions. With the use of atomic absorption spectrometry at Ulm University a project was undertaken to investigate Dschu-mar 25 pills from different origins: a wide variation in the concentration of mercury was thereby discovered One result of this analysis seems to be of special importance: it was not only the inert and therefore untoxic HgS (Cinnabar) which was discovered in Dschu-mar 25.
1. Inorganic mercury compounds like mercurous chloride and mercuric chloride are white powders and do not generally vaporize at room temperatures like elemental mercury will. If they are inhaled, they are not expected to enter your body as easily as inhaled metallic mercury vapor.
2. When inorganic mercury compounds are swallowed, generally less than 10% is absorbed through the intestinal tract ;( the WHO has set up Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake (PTWI) that allows 3.3 mg/kg of methyl mercury for tuna fish and shell fish) considering 1gm/kg is fed to rats which is very high dose when compared to use of mercury in Ayurvedic formulations which is 30-40mg /day in approximately 60 kg person comes out to be 0.5-0.6mg/kg. (As compared with methyl mercury, the total amount of HgS accumulated in the tissues ranging about one five-thousandth of methyl mercury) and dividing it by 5000 it comes out to be .0001 a difference of 0 .9999 mg/kg between the thinking pattern of ancient scholars and western scientists.
3. As per absorption principle inorganic mercury absorption is 1/9th to that of methyl mercury which means 0.5/9 or .055mg/kg is absorbed through the intestines so the weekly dose comes out to be .055 x 7 =.385mg/kg bw/wk which is well below the even for the mark set for methyl mercury (the more dangerous one) .
4. Tissue distribution (As compared with methyl mercury, the total amount of HgS accumulated in the tissues is about one five-thousandth of methyl mercury) and dividing it by 5000 it comes out to be .385/5000 =.00007mg/kg bw/wk. Can it be toxic!!! This is the difference between the thinking pattern of ancient scholars and western scientists.
According to the criteria of the WHO the weekly dose of mercury that can be tolerated by the body is estimated and the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency (FSA) uses the safety standard applied by the World Health Organization (WHO) -- called the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake (PTWI) -- that allows 3.3 micrograms of methyl mercury per kilogram of body weight a week (ug/kg bw/week) for the general population and 1.6 micrograms of methyl mercury per kilogram of body weight (ug/kg bw/week) for pregnant and nursing women.
Where as in U.S FDA /EPA reference dose is 0.7 micrograms per kg of body weight per week. (Note: the EPA reference dose provides a ten-fold safety factor.
5. It therefore suggests that the amount taken in with 2 to 3 pills is well below then WHO tolerance boundary for the maximum weekly dose.
There is limited laboratory evidence suggesting that several dietary components might reduce (e.g. selenium, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids) or enhance (e.g. alcohol) mercury's toxicity for some endpoints.
Now consider the strict regime to be followed along with mercurial preparations beside the fact that it is almost always invariably combined with sulphur which is the advice given by noted nutritionists (It will be important to have a high protein diet as the sulfur bearing amino acids in the protein will greatly facilitate detoxification) .... Mercury Detox Diet By Joseph Mercola, MD
6. Inorganic mercury compounds also do not move as easily from the blood of a pregnant woman to her developing child.
The question which should arise is that whether the herbs and Metals (mind you not only metals) used according to Ayurvedic principles does any harm to the human body if prescribed by an Ayurvedic doctor or more precisely Vaidya. ( and not when taken by the recommendation of a good friend or a claim by a pharmaceutical company)
The answer is Simple and one word - NO.
Ayurveda has given supreme significance to the human body and even ascribed special position to god in the human body, which signifies the fact that how precious we are. Ayurveda probably is the only science which says Purshm Purshm Vikshym (Ch.S).which means characters of one person is different from the other (thoughts working style food habits etc) or in simple words No two human beings on this earth are same., so unlike allopathic, Ayurvedic doctor will prescribe different medicine to the persons suffering from the same disease based on their individual Prakruti (nature), Vikruti (Disease), Dosha - dushya sammurchana (gradation of disease process) and Sroto-dushti (tissues involved) and that to with proper Anupan (vehicle for medicine) along with Patya - Apathya (Do's and Dont's for diet) details.
These two are different sciences devoted to the welfare of humans but with different principles, so the rule which apply to one does not apply to the other at all.
e.g. Heavy Metals as popularly explained metals with specific gravity greater than 4 gm/cm which means when they are put on to the water they will settle at the bottom. But going by the tests for bhasmas for the final approval to use on the human beings must have following three qualities
1) They should float on water (what happened to the gravity!)
2) They should be able to take the weight of a rice grain. (More weight bearing must be a heart change for the metals)
3) They should have microfiness to fit into the lines of the hand and should not glitter.
So if the bhasmas have the same harmful properties as that of the metals how come it has lost all his physical properties and acquired new ones?
Well there are few explanations and theories to it but no facts to explain it perfectly.
Mercury and other metals become toxic only when they exceed a tolerable safe level.
If billions of people can exist without toxic symptoms at a tolerably low level of heavy metals, and if that has been the case as long as mankind has existed on the earth, it is highly misleading to tell patients they have "heavy metal toxicity" .
Again, none of this excuses herbal product manufacturers from stringent quality control standards; it's just that we should put health risks in their proper perspective. In summary, I am not trumping up medicine safety issues relative to mercury in Ayurvedic medicine. I have simply reacted to the scientific community and regulatory agencies published findings that have alerted consumers to the need for caution and education so they make informed personal decisions as to their medicinal choices. My goal is to assist them to continue deriving the maximum health benefit from ancient Ayurveda with the confidence that they can do so safely.
Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is for the sole purpose of imparting education on Ayurveda and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have a medical condition, please consult your physician.