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Mercury ban may hit Ayurveda

Varanasi (ToI): Faculty of Ayurveda, Banaras Hindu University, is worried that the ancient Ayurveda system of medicine may collapse if a global ban is imposed on the trade of mercury, considering only its harmfulness and without realising that the inorganic form and sulphides of mercury (rasa sindoor, which is proven harmless) have wider application in the preparation of Ayurvedic medicines.

Around 140 countries are supporting the ban on the trade of mercury due to environmental risks. India has no mines for the extraction of mercury. Mercury is imported for its industrial and medicinal uses. At present, the stock comes from Italy.

Anand Chaudhary of the department of rasa shashtra, faculty of Ayurveda, BHU, expressed concern over the decision of these countries under United Nations. On January 10, 2013, UN Environment Programme released its report ‘Mercury: Time to Act’. On January 21, Geneva hosted 140 countries to finalise this treaty.

Worried with it, scientists of BHU and Ayurvedic medicine manufacturers, academicians and researches from across the country are going to discuss the matter in BHU on April 20. “We will prepare the draft, evidences and research papers to support government of India to ask for a clause in the law for the Ayurvedic uses of mercury,” Chaudhary said. P 2

“Mercury has significant use in the preparation of rasaoushadhies (bio-mineral formulations). However, in the final product that we call the Ayurvedic medicine, mercury is never used in elemental, ionic or organic form. Its inorganic form is used, which is mostly sulphide. Many research papers have been published in this regard. Every metal, mineral and mercury used in rasa shastra as medicines are always in the inorganic compound form, which is well established and validated,” Chaudhary added.

Chaudhary is also part of projects of Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to the Prime Minister under a scientific initiation in Ayurveda (ASIA) programme, under project of rasa sindoor since 2006 and has also served department of Ayush, ministry of health and family welfare as subject expert (Rasa Shastra) in several committees since 2000.

Chaudhary said that the matter was even discussed in the World Ayurveda Congress held in Bhopal recently. The ministry of health and family welfare has written to the ministry of environment and forest to appeal for a clause in the complete ban on mercury by these countries, which would enable the preparation of rasaoushadhies.

The method of purification and calcination of mercury to make it harmless for use in medicines is around 1500 years old and is known only to India. “There are eight different processes under Sanskar, Sodhan and Maran through which the mercury has to under go before using it in medicines. The westerners are not aware of it. Although they have realised the medicinal values of mercury in 19th century but the researches failed because they use organic and chlorides of mercury which prove dangerous,” Chaudhary added.

“We also support the ban, accepting the harmfulness of mercury to the environment. But an exemption is required for the Ayurvedic medicines. Mercury can be dangerous to health and environment if used in vapour form, organic and other forms without undergoing various stages of purification. The mercury used wrongly can lead to severe damage to the DNA and neuron degeneration,” Chaudhary added.

Unavailability of mercury for medical uses will also lead to global loss. Notably, the export of Ayush products has increased from Rs 2887.01 crores in 2009-10 to Rs 3341.90 crores in 2010-11, showing an annual growth rate of 16 per cent, whereas it has increased to Rs 19,069.39 crores in 2011-12 with an annual growth rate of is 47 per cent.



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