Metals, Minerals and Ayurveda
By Dr. Sajimon George BAMS. AAA. ATMS
Minerals and metals are used in Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Modern medicine and nutritional supplements. Importance of minerals and some metals in non toxic form is proved to be inevitable for healthy cellular level metabolism. Nowadays presence of heavy metals in Ayurvedic medicines has become a hot topic of discussion. In this article I would like to explain a few facts in this regard.
Ayurvedic system of medicine use herbs, minerals, naturally occurring substances and products of animal origin in different formulations. There are regional differences in India, in the extent of use of herbo -mineral preparations and metallic preparations. For example easy availability of herbs and development of very effective Panchakarma procedures in South India resulted in a tradition of wide use of pure poly herbal formulations. Scarcity of herbs, forced physicians of other regions to specialize the use of bhasmas, sindooras (Calcined form) of metals, heavy metals and minerals. Even then usage of herbo -mineral preparations and pharmaceutic ally processed pure minerals and metals were limited to very critical clinical conditions .Out of thousands of Ayurvedic formulations now in practice, only less than 10% constitute this category.
Ayurveda, a few thousands year old system is well aware of the possible toxic effects of heavy metals and minerals if not properly made or not administered judiciously. That is the reason why pharmaceutical processing techniques and parameters for standardization of final product are explained in detail. Descriptions include toxicity symptoms and management. This type of medicines are meant for short term use only. Small dosage and shot term use under strict medical supervision by an Ayurvedic expert are mandate for its safe therapeutic usage. Standard text books of Ayurveda mention that Ayurvedic drugs, if improperly used can be toxic. Charaka states in the Sutrasthana of the Charaka Samhita – A potent poison also becomes the best drug on proper administration. On the contrary, even the best drug becomes a potent poison if used badly.
In addition to this, very strict food regimen and physical activities are advised during the period when patient is undergoing treatment with such preparations. Strict food regimen helps body in keeping healthy glutathione -cysteine mechanism which nullifies any chance of toxicity. This mechanism prevents accumulation of heavy metals or metals in the vital organs by the production organo -metallic complexes called ligands.
Heavy metals like mercury and lead are also used as ingredient in some of the herbo -mineral preparations. Never a heavy metal or metal is used in elemental or ionic form. There are eight different complex procedures called Sanskaras and subsequent Sodhana and Marana through which the mercury has to undergo before its use in medicines. The modern researchers have realized the medicinal values of mercury in 19th century but the researches failed because they used organic and chlorides of mercury which were proved dangerous. Through sodhana and marana process it achieve a nano particular form. Response of body to any material in nano particular form is very different. In this form even heavy metals like mercury or lead is well tolerated by body and this never gets accumulated and will be easily excreted.
Metals and Minerals in Ayurveda
Ayurvedic classics from 6th century AD give details on usage of minerals and metals. Usage is substantiated by controlled usage of Gold, Zinc, etc in modern medicine and nutritional supplements. Ayurveda endorse judicious usage of processed minerals and metals in the treatment and prevention of many diseases.
Sodhana or Purification
Any herb, mineral, metal or product of animal origin, if toxic will be strictly subjected to sodhana (purification) procedures. Completion of these procedures may require many weeks.
Chemical purity is never an objective of sodhana or purification, instead the aim is to make the drug nontoxic and in therapeutically effective assimilable form. Body can easily eliminate or excrete metabolic wastes produced by administration of medicine in this form. Actually during this process many herbs are added and drug is made in to a herbo -mineral mixture. In some cases sodhana or purification process converts the drug in to a form which makes it suitable for further processing such as calcination or marana.
- Triturating of the drug with specified herbal juices, decoction, buttermilk or any other liquids for stipulated time.
- Boiling in specified liquids as above.
- Repeated heating and dipping in any of the specified liquids as mentioned above.
Marana or Calcination.
Especially metals and hard minerals are to be made in to nontoxic therapeutically effective ashes or nanoparticles before administration. Calcination or marana process is done to achieve this. Here minerals and metals which have already undergone sodhana or purification process are subjected to incineration or marana. Based on hardness and other physio chemical properties Ayurvedic classics specify quantum of heat (Puta) for each drugs. This is done by mentioning quantity of fuel (Number of dried cow dung cakes) to be used for each incineration. How many times incineration is to be repeated is also clearly mentioned in these classics. In some cases, incineration is to be repeated 100 times. Each time product obtained after incineration will be triturated with specified herbal juices or decoctions. By repeating the marana process for as many times stipulated by classics, final product or ash will achieve Organoleptic and physio chemical standards set by classics. This incinerated ash either will be used alone or will be used in a herbo -mineral formulation.
Causes of accidental heavy metal contamination
- Wear and tear of machineries used in the processing.
- Heavy metal polluted water.
- Usage of herbs with affinity to absorb and accumulate specific heavy metals. eg:Guduchi or Tinospora cordifolia has affinity towards lead.
Steps followed by Ayurveda to ensure safety of metals and minerals can be summarized as follows
- Proven pharmaceutical procedures for Sodhana or purification
- Well defined procedure for calcinations or marana procedure.
- Organoleptic and physiochemical standards set by Ayurvedic classics.
- Small dosage and short period usage.
- Strict food regimen can support glutathione-cysteine like mechanisms which help in preventing any toxic effects.
- Reputable brand of Ayurveda pharma companies check for heavy metal contamination, pesticidal residue etc in sophisticated laboratories before bringing out to their outlets for consumers.
There is no need to be panic, on the presence of heavy metals in Ayurvedic medicines, if it is taken under strict medical supervision and procured from reputable brands.