Health Canada warns of heavy metals in products sold by A1 Herbal Ayurvedic Clinic

An advisory issued Monday said inspectors had seized products, ingredients and equipment from A1 Herbal Ayurvedic Clinic Ltd. in Surrey, B.C., and from an affiliated clinic in Brampton, Ont.

Lead and mercury detected in products from Surrey, B.C., clinic

Health Canada has seized products, ingredients and equipment from the A1 Herbal Ayurvedic Clinic Ltd. and is warning the public that they could pose serious risks. (BCCDC)

Health Canada is warning that products sold by ayurvedic clinics in B.C. and Ontario may pose serious health risks, after some were found to contain lead and mercury.

An advisory issued Monday said inspectors had seized products, ingredients and equipment from A1 Herbal Ayurvedic Clinic Ltd. in Surrey, B.C., and from an affiliated clinic in Brampton, Ont.

"The seizures came after the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control informed Health Canada of a case of heavy metal toxicity involving a patient who was using products from the Surrey clinic," Health Canada said.

"Laboratory testing identified lead and mercury in the products."

Lead and mercury are heavy metals that may pose serious health risks when consumed in excessive amounts. Children, pregnant women and breastfeeding women are particularly susceptible.

Symptoms of lead poisoning include:

  • Anemia.
  • Headaches/irritability/ slowed thinking.
  • Constipation.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Miscarriages/stillbirth.

None of the seized health products are authorized for sale by the federal regulator. Selling unauthorized health products is illegal in Canada.

Health Canada is warning against using all products by A1 Herbal Ayurvedic Clinic, which were also sold online.

Ayurveda is a healthy-lifestyle system that emphasizes good health and prevention and treatment of illness through lifestyle practices (such as massage, meditation, yoga, and dietary changes) and the use of herbal remedies, according to HealthLink BC's website. 

The names of the products were not provided. 

Powders imported from India

"The sales were made upon a client talking about his medical history," said Maryse Durette, a spokeswoman for Health Canada. "It would be concocted at the back there immediately for that person."

The BCCDC advises discarding all products by the clinic, and seeing a physician if you have used any of the products and are concerned about your health.

At the Surrey clinic, "they were mixing up a variety of powders mostly imported or entirely imported from India. They were mixing them up with aloe vera juice, putting them in capsules, and as I think common with or ayurvedic medications, they were dispensing them based on a person's symptoms to individuals by a clinic run by a non-licensed practitioner," said Tom Kosatsky, medical director for BCCDC's Environmental Health Services.

While many Ayurvedic products can be used safely, improper manufacturing processes may result in dangerously high levels of heavy metals in the final product, health officials say.

In the February issue of the BC Medical Journal, provincial researchers reported the case of a 64-year-old man who was seen in emergency rooms throughout the Lower Mainland over five months complaining of abdominal pain, dizziness, weight loss, and nausea. A consulting internist eventually considered lead toxicity and tests showed significantly elevated blood lead, the team said. 

 Kosatsky was the lead author. 

Buyer beware

There's a long tradition of the use of ayurvedic and other natural medications by Chinese, South Asian and Latin American consumers in particular, he said. 

"This is an established cultural practice," Kosatsky said. "I think, though, that people should be aware of products that first don't have a Health Canada natural health product number … meaning that the ingredients have never been vetted by Health Canada. They should be aware that in buying products from a cultural practitioner that that person is not a member of any college and has not been registered with a college, doesn't comply with the ethical standards or the clinical standards of that college. So to a degree it's buyer beware."

Kosatsky said the researchers published the case report to introduce doctors to new regulations in B.C. for lead and mercury that went into effect on Jan. 1.

Previously, if laboratories or clinicians found a high level of lead or mercury in a patient's blood or urine, they didn't need to report it to public health. Now they'll automatically be received by public health authorities in B.C. In some cases, the individual will be followed up, Kosatsky said, to identify possible sources of the poisoning and if anyone else might have taken the same product, such as family members or those in the community. 

"Consumers should always exercise caution when purchasing health products from outside Canada or over the internet, as these products may not have undergone the same degree of assessment as those authorized for sale in Canada," Health Canada said in its advisory.

The regulator suggests that consumers look for either an eight-digit Drug Identification Number (DIN), a Natural Product Number (NPN), or a Homeopathic Drug Number (DIN-HM). 

Back in  2008, Health Canada also reminded consumers who choose to use unapproved Ayurvedic medicinal products that some of these products may contain high levels of heavy metals.