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Ancient practice under fire.

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Herbal pills, powders, oils and liquids are the foundation of Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient system of health care that originated in India around 5,000 years ago. Renowned as 'the science of life', Ayurvedic medicine is widely considered to be the oldest continuously practiced system of medicine on the planet. It is used by millions of people in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, but has also become popular in the West, as interest in yoga and alternative medicine has grown significantly.Ayurvedic medicine recently came under scrutiny however, when a study from the US revealed that one fifth of Ayurvedic medicines sold on the internet contain unhealthy levels of dangerous substances like lead, mercury, and poisonous arsenic."Since 1978 more than 80 cases of lead poisoning associated with Ayurvedic medicine use have been reported worldwide," says medical researcher Robert Saper, one of the authors of the recent study on Ayurvedic applications sold over the internet."Our first priority must be the safety of the public. Herbs and supplements with high levels of lead, mercury, and arsenic should not be available for sale on the internet or elsewhere."According to doctors, high amounts of lead can harm the nervous system, kidneys and other major organs. Anemia, a decline in red blood cells, can also occur, as well as damage to the nervous system that may impair mental function. And at worst, lead poisoning can cause seizures or death.The study notes that there are two types of Ayurvedic medicines: one using only herbs and another, called 'rasa shastra', in which herbs are mixed with metals like mercury, lead, iron, zinc, and other materials like mica and pearl. However, Ayurveda practitioners still maintain that these medicines are safe and therapeutic when properly prepared and administered.As Ayurvedic medicine is hugely popular in this part of the world, we spoke to Suresh Kumar, an Ayurveda consultant at Cleopatra's Spa at Wafi City, to find out his reaction to the news that 20 per cent of Ayurvedic medicines sold online contain harmful metals. "Of course it is dangerous to randomly buy Ayurvedic medicine online, because specialists like myself cannot assure the quality of the product if it is bought over the internet. It could be fatal," says Kumar.

Kumar highlights that Ayurvedic specialists are extremely knowledgeable about all the plants used and their properties, and therefore only they can recommend suitable products, but through a proper consultation for each individual case. "With Ayurvedic medicine, combination and dosage is also very important. This cannot be figured out correctly with an online product, hence the danger," warns Kumar, who also emphasises that research and experience are vital in administering the medicine. In the Southern part of India where Kumar trained in Ayurvedic medicine, the use of rasa shastra is limited. He says that rasa shastra is just one of eight branches of Ayurveda science. "In the region where I trained, we rely 99 per cent of the time on plant products. I will seldom use rasa shastra, concentrating more on herbal extracts, herbal wines distilled for 40 days, tablets and powders," says Kumar. Where metals are concerned, Kumar explains that they have to be purified in different manners, but that when done correctly they can be used in a very effective and beneficial manner. The problem, stresses Kumar, is that with online Ayurvedic products, it's difficult to guarantee whether the manner in which the medicine is produced is up to standard. "I hear horror stories about Ayurvedic medicines bought from the internet and these medicines are damaging the good reputation of Ayurvedic medicine," says Kumar."Not everybody knows about Ayurvedic medicine, but if dodgy medicines are being sold freely over the internet, people are going to get the wrong idea and become sceptical. "If herbal products on the market are not being properly regulated it gives Ayurvedic medicine a bad name. This needs to be addressed," he says. It's important to exercise caution when taking medicine and with Ayurvedic medicine the same rules apply.

As an alternative to traditional medicine Kumar says that there are many benefits to visiting an Ayurvedic specialist. "Ayurveda has great remedies for stress relief. Our programmes include excellent treatments in the form of herbal medicines to help pacify the mind and aid with concentration," says Kumar."Also regarding obesity, a major health problem in this region, we have some successful remedies that help with weight loss simply by regulating the fat metabolism."With Ayurvedic medicine we don't just tackle the obvious ailment, we strive to enhance overall health by targeting the physical body, the mental state and the soul inside."For more information on Ayurvedic medicine contact Suresh Kumar at Cleopatra's Spa at Wafi City - telephone 04 324 7700.

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Aug 31, 2008
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