Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ayurvedic, Herbal, Homeopathic, Natural, Organic, Integrated, Alternative Medications in Pregnancy

I have been thinking a lot about Ayurvedic medicines and treatments lately. I am planning a trip this year to an ashram in Kerala, India with the intention of not only receiving treatments but also studying differences in Eastern and Western approaches to medical care, medicines and treatments. I also have a very large international population of patients and always have. I understand the cultural medical mores that many people consider vital to their health and well-being. There are diets and herbs considered routine in many cultures that are strictly advised against in the western hemisphere. Especially in pregnancy.

I have always been taught to advise women that the words herbal, organic, homeopathic and Ayurvedic are to be taken seriously because the FDA doesn't test these supplements. As far as they are concerned, if something hasn't been tested for safety, well, there is no way of knowing if it is indeed safe. So stay away from anything that isn't approved by the FDA. Our western model of healthcare doesn't acknowledge many eastern medical modalities. It is only very recently that alternative or integrative approaches may be considered by a small number of the medical population. Practitioners have seen convincing evidence of the merits of meditation.

Coincidently, I came across a small study recently about lead poisoning and pregnant women who used Ayurvedic medicines from India. Lead poisoning has been recognized as potentially lethal and lead is strictly regulated in the United States. Fetal exposure to lead can adversely affect neurodevelopment, decrease fetal growth and increase the risks for prematurity and miscarriage. Patients is this particular study were ingesting supplements from India, purchased here in New York state.  The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene  found twenty-two oral "remedies" containing high levels of heavy metals.

Ayurvedic medications are divided into two separate categories: herbal only and rasa shastra ( rasa shastra is an ancient practice of combining herbs and metals, minerals and gems compounds ). In this country, we do not even prescribe herbs that haven't been tested and deemed safe. Many of  us and even more women of different cultural backgrounds are increasingly looking to alternatives to customary western medicine. The study pointed out that the miscarriages and anomalies reported from use of heavy metals might have been the result of stores of these metals found in women's bones due to use when they weren't even pregnant.

There is no way to explain many of the birth defects, fertility problems, new diagnoses ( autism ) in alarming numbers that afflict us in the twenty-first century. Is it environmental? Is it something in the air we breathe, the water we drink and wash in, the ground we grow our crops in or the medicines we think are benign? Ayurvedic medicine in India is  accepted as safe and routine, just the way we view our medical practices. It certainly is food for thought. What might be considered appropriate here may not be safe at all. Err on the side of caution. Feed your children well, do not over use medications on them or yourselves. Even more caution must be necessary while pregnant or breastfeeding. The more we know, the more we know we don't know.