Sunday, Sep 21, 2003
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By Alladi Jayasri
A study by the National Referral Centre for Lead Poisoning India (NRCLPI) at St. John's Hospital here has even found that a herbal health remedy turned into a case of lead poisoning.
This has raised concerns about standards and safety of medication whose contents, or source is often not ascertainable, according to the NRCLPI Director, T. Venkatesh.
A 27-year-old woman was referred to the centre for evaluation of lead poisoning. The case history revealed that she had been unable to conceive for the past five years although tests on her and the husband had shown normal results. Reluctant to go for follicular study, the patient opted for a course of alternative medicine. Within a month of taking a course of herbal medicine she was complaining of abdominal pain, nausea, sleeplessness, giddiness, and constipation that became so severe that she had to be hospitalised.
Exposure to heavy metals such as lead is widespread in most Indian cities, and poses a serious health hazard. It is associated with a continuumof health effects. At low levels, lead interferes with normal haeme-synthesis and other biochemical processes, causes impairment of psychological and neuro-behavioural functions and leads to damage in virtually all organs and body system, resulting in death at excessive levels of exposure.
The NRCLPI investigations into the present case indicated lead toxicity, and lead levels in blood were determined. The herbal medicines were analysed in three unbranded suspensions. The use of oriental medicine as alternative therapy is yet to be recognised as a source of lead toxicity, according to Dr. Venkatesh. Reports of addition of mercury and lead as active ingredients indicate that in the absence of a detailed list of constituents and their concentrations, it is impossible to predict the number of cases of similarly induced heavy metal poisoning.
Studies have shown that the incidence of miscarriages, still-birth, and decreased length of gestation period were higher in women who have had mild to moderate exposure to lead. During pregnancy, lead is known to be mobilised from the bone along with calcium, which means even the foetus is vulnerable, as there is no placental barrier for lead. Only awareness, regulation, and monitoring can help.
The centre is working with the Government and the media on `awareness, communication, and education' so that the hazards of exposure to lead absorption will be taken seriously by the public, according to Dr. Venkatesh.
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