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Heavy metals in Ayurveda- 1

by Dr. Dheeraj Malhotra

Heavy metals - Are they really heavy on human body?

Ayurveda is knowledge about healthy prolongation of life (Ayu + Veda). Is it possible that the Spiritual Gurus who unveiled this treasure to the ailing humanity could have made this blunder and reduce the life of a person?

The answer is bold “NO.”

Those who do not understand the viewpoint of Ayurveda and the ones who do not want to understand it says so.
Let’s see what exactly the definition of Heavy metals is?

Historically there is no consensus on a scientifically valid definition of heavy metals!

There is a layman tendency, unsupported by the facts to assume that all the so called heavy metals and their compounds are highly toxic or have eco-toxic properties .Their is no basis in chemical or toxicological data. Thus the term heavy metal is both misleading and meaningless. (John H.duffus; Pure & Applied Chemistry.74i793-807)

In the earliest reference of Heavy metals, Bjerrume’s Inorganic Chemistry -1936, he defined “Heavy metals as metals having density greater than 4 gm/cm³”. (It simply means any metal which is 4 times heavier than water should be called as heavy metal. Consider Silver is a heavy metal). However it was never used as a formal or official definition. This is because there is no relationship between the density and any reactive properties associated with metals, or any other element in the periodic table.

Later on it was redefined on the basis of gram atomic weight and if you call this an official one, both Magnesium and Potassium are classified as heavy metals. The confusion keeps on increasing, when you find that the most referred book on toxicology Casarretl and Doull’s toxicology never used the term Heavy Metal. Now you are confused as the rest of the medical faculty of the world lets find out the real truth.

All metals are present in the earth's crust and enter our bodies continuously at low levels. It is a common mistake, based on fear and misinformation, to believe that a toxin has a linear toxic effect down to the lowest levels. All toxins have a safe threshold below which there is no toxicity. In fact, below a safe threshold toxicity disappears and there is no toxicity at all —and in some cases even benefit exists. Mercury is most widely used metal in Rasa-Shastra discipline of Ayurveda and to some extent most controversial also. Recent developments have highlighted the need to research whether it should be used at all. Let’s gather all the relevant scientific data and accept it as truth.

How Can Mercury Enter and Leave our Body?

A person can be exposed to mercury from breathing in contaminated air, from swallowing or eating contaminated water or food, or from having skin contact with mercury.  Not all forms of mercury easily enter your body, even if they come in contact with it; so it is important to know which form of mercury you have been exposed to, and by which route (air, food, or skin).

When you swallow small amounts of metallic mercury, for example, from a broken oral thermometer, virtually none (less than 0.01%) of the mercury will enter your body through the stomach or intestines, unless they are diseased. Even when large amount of metal mercury (a half of a tablespoon, about 204 grams) was swallowed by one person, very little entered the body.

When you breathe in mercury vapors, however, most (about 80%) of the mercury enters your bloodstream directly from your lungs, and then rapidly goes to other parts of your body, including the brain and kidneys. Once in your body, metallic mercury can stay for weeks or months. When metallic mercury enters the brain, it is readily converted to an inorganic form and is "trapped" in the brain for a long time.

From Mother to Fetus

There is no clear evidence that exposure to mercury or inorganic mercury compounds has adverse effects on the developing fetus.  However exposure to organic mercury compounds can slow the growth of unborn baby and disrupt the nervous system.  Organic mercury can be transferred from blood to milk posing the risk to new-born baby. (Pregnant workers information leaflet –for notification of pregnancy. govt. of U.K.)

Mercury in the Bloodstream

Methyl mercury is the form of mercury most easily absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract (about 95% absorbed). After you eat fish or other foods that are contaminated with methyl mercury, the methyl mercury enters your bloodstream easily and goes rapidly to other parts of your body.

Only small amounts of methyl mercury enter the bloodstream directly through the skin, but other forms of organic mercury (in particular dimethyl mercury) can rapidly enter the body through the skin.

What Happens to It in the Body?

Inhalation -
80% is absorbed.
Following ingestion,
Absorption is
Less than 0.01% for metallic mercury,
Less than 10% for inorganic mercury,
More than 95% for organic mercury.

Mercury can also be absorbed through the skin, but the amount is small compared to breathing or swallowing it.  (The "true absorption" of a single oral dose of HgCl2 was calculated to be about 20% at two different dose levels)

What is around us cannot be Ignored
In the air we breathe,

(The five super thermal power plants in the Singrauli area, which supply 10 per cent of India’s power, are responsible for 16.85  percent or 10 tonnes per annum of total mercury pollution . . through power generation. “A typical 100-megawatt thermal . power plant can emit over 10 kg of mercury in a single year. . . About 200 metric tonnes of toxic mercury escapes from industrial. . Chimneys and effluents each year in India, said Anil Gautam,. . People’s Science Institute (PSI), a Dehra Doon based research. . Organization.)

In the food we eat

(Growing research shows a clear relationship between. . fish (tuna etc), Dental amalgams (MERCURY +SILVER) and the presence of mercury in body organs. It also links mercury fillings to autism and Alzheimer’s. This is continuous source of mercury poisoning)

It is not possible to totally eliminate all exposure. The goal is to stay below a toxic threshold.

It is not true that there’s no "safe" level for mercury.

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