But practitioners of South Asian medicine say treatments are safe
But some experts fear the problem could be more widespread.
Specialists in Ayurveda — derived from the 5,000-year-old Indian system of medicine — contend the treatments are largely effective and safe.
Dr. Mohsin Khan, a specialist in Ayurvedic medicine, a 5,000-year-old Indian system of traditional healing, sees a patient at Sandeep Ayurvedic in Jackson Heights.
But studies have shown some Ayurvedic supplements contain dangerous metals, leading the city to ban several of the products.
Experts note the supplements are easily purchased online. India-based drugneed.com, for example, offers an 80-tablet bottle of Vatvidhwansan Ras, a supplement barred by the city Health Department, for as little $1.76, plus shipping and handling.
“It is extremely irresponsible to prescribe this as medicine,” said Dr. Stefanos Kales, a professor of environmental health at Harvard University.
A 2008 study of 193 Ayurvedic supplements bought online found 20% contained lead, mercury or arsenic. From 2000 to 2003, the Centers for Disease Control linked a dozen lead poisonings across the country to Ayurvedic supplements. At least 11 of those 12 poisoned were of South Asian descent, the CDC found.
In New York, a 30-year-old pregnant New York woman suffered lead poisoning after taking an Ayurvedic prenatal supplement called “Pregnita” for four months — and her child was born with a high lead count, according to the Health Department.
In March, a 40-year-old man with diabetes who was treated with two Ayurvedic supplements for five months also suffered lead poisoning, the agency said.
Kales and other experts believe the problem could be more serious than city statistics indicate.
“If the doctor isn’t looking specifically for lead, then a case can easily be misdiagnosed,” Kales said.
Ayurvedic specialists say the concerns in the medical community are overblown.
“Ayurveda has problems,” conceded Dr. Mohsin Khan of Jackson Heights, but so does Western medicine.
Ayurvedic specialists like Khan use nutrition as a way to restore the body to harmony. The naturopathic doctor said he doesn’t prescribe supplements with metal content.
He points to success stories like Haji Rashid, a 69-year-old Jackson Heights shopkeeper, who came to him with complaints of back pain.
Six months of physical therapy did nothing to help Rashid. But after two months of treatment by Khan, Rashid said, his pain is all but gone.
“Now I can walk straight,” Rashid said, standing tall.
Most lead poisoning cases result from patients taking supplements with metal content after stopping doctor visits, said Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya, a holistic doctor in Manhattan who is studying Ayurvedic medicine.
“People can’t just take this. They need someone who knows how to handle it,” she said.
Rashid said he hasn’t experienced any side effects and that he plans to continue his Ayurvedic treatment.
“This medicine is good,” he said.