Why you don’t get to know what your Ayurvedic drug has?
NEW DELHI, JANUARY 29: It is perhaps one of the most popular ayurvedic formulations, used for years and advertised by everyone from Sourav Ganguly to Amitabh Bachchan. But even the innocuous Chyawanprash may not be as wholesome as the manufacturing companies would have us believe. For one, they will not tell you that Chyawanprash is 65-per cent sugar, almost poison for diabetics.
And Chyawanprash is just the start. The Ayurvedic medicine labels have ingredients listed in classical forms which are not likely to be understood by the average consumer. That, in fact, hides a lot: that Kajjali Bhasma is mercury or Nag Bhasma is lead.
Under the law, the one thing manufacturers have to ‘‘conspicuously display’’ on their labels is ‘To be taken under medical supervision if the ingredients include one of the 25 substances specified in Schedule E(1) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945’. The 25 ingredients include red oxide of lead, red oxide of mercury, copper sulphate, cinnabar, arsenic, arseno sulphide, mercury, snake poison, drugs of animal origin, drugs of mineral origin, dhatura, cannabis and others. But most Ayurvedic formulations slip into the market without any such labels.
While in an October 10, 2005, order, the Department of AYUSH directed state licensing authorities of Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha (ASU) drug manufactures to ensure compliance with labelling regulations, no action has followed. The order gave the state authorities the power to cancel or suspend licences of defaulters.
‘‘We are going to enforce the labelling law strictly,’’ assures Shiv Basant, Joint Secretary, Department of AYUSH, who says it is one of the priorities of this government. ‘‘The industry has agreed but they have said that the old stocks are still in the market. We are giving them time till June 30 to finish their stocks or withdraw them from the market.’’
However, if law was the answer, India has had one since 1940. Section 33P of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act directs all Ayurvedic Siddha and Unnani (ASU) manufacturers to display on the labels of their drugs the true ingredients (official and botanical names) used in manufacture together with the quantity of each one of them.
In case all the ingredients cannot fit, the law makes it compulsory for manufacturers to insert a leaflet in the packaging. If the manufacturer gives inadequate or incomplete information, the substance is called misbranded.
If it contains a substance which should not be there the drug becomes adulterated. The law clearly states that there is three years’ imprisonment as punishment for the offence.
There is another aspect to the labelling controversy. While Basant says ‘‘most of the consumers today are educated enough to read and understand themselves’’ the ingredients used, Dr C M Gulati, WHO drug expert and editor of MIMS India, refutes that it is hardly the case. ‘‘There is very little that a common man with no knowledge of Ayurveda can know by simply reading the labels,’’ he says.
Basant claims that while they recognise the problem, they haven’t been insisting on botanical names as manufacturers say the labels are too small to accommodate all this information. ‘
‘So, for the time being, we are insisting on classical names only. A user of Ayurveda mostly knows these substances,’’ he adds.
Another vital information Ayurveda labels skip is ideal dosage, consumption period and expiry date; even the labelling regulations do not make this mandatory, unlike in case of other drugs.
With most of these medicines sold over the counter, consumers make calculated guesses about how much is good and for how long.
Like in case of Chyawanprash, other Ayurvedic products too fail to mention any medical conditions where taking the medicine would do harm.
‘‘The package will always tell you who will benefit but there is nomention of medical conditions where it should be not be used,’’ says Dr Gulati. ‘‘Or the effects if used along with other Ayurveda or allopatic drugs.’’
Metal in medicine
What your Ayurveda drug for the following diseases may contain:
• Cough syrups: Copper
• Asthma and liver disorders: Copper
• Diuretic & urinary antiseptics: Tin
• Diuretic and hypoglycemic disorders: Zinc
• Antidysenterics and tonics: Mercury, Sulphur
• Antacids and stomach aches: Mercury, Sulphur, Borax