14 May 2010
It was a nightmare that began with Mumbra housewife Sunaina’s dream of losing weight. She wanted to slim down in time for her husband’s annual trip home from Saudi Arabia–and quick–fixes seemed the best bet.
“A friend suggested ayurvedic pills for Rs 100 a month,” says the 35–year mother of two. Two weeks into the twice–a–day concoction and Sunaina’s world seemed to be crumbling. “I couldn’t walk more than five steps. I needed to breathe through my mouth,” says Sunaina.
Such stories are rampant even while fake doctor Munir Khan surrendered to the police on Wednesday after duping thousands with his magic cure for all ailments under the sun. Many relatives and cancer patients had testified in the run–up to the quack’s arrest. More recently actor Aryan Vaid confessed that anti–balding pills threw his hormonal system out of gear, underlining the lure of so–called magic cures for Mumbaikars.
Cardiologist Manjeet Juneja, who has been treating Sunaina since the nightmare a year back, says the drugs had brought her heart’s pumping action down to 15%. “Her thyriod glands were affected as was her heart. Clearly, the slimming drug had cost her dearly,” he adds.
Sunaina’s heart function has now gone up to 45% but some concerns still remain. “My kidneys seem to be working below par,” she says. Dr Juneja admits there is no way of knowing if the drugs have left a permanent scar on her heart.
But ‘desi’ magic cures are not alone in causing health problems. Opera House resident Priya took foreign–made slimming pills prescribed by a doctor from a five–star hospital. But she started having palpitations and hallucinations within a few days. The drugs she was prescribed have since been banned by the US FDA for its side–effects on the thyroid gland.
Why do people take such drugs without proper verification? “People with chronic diseases such as cancer tend to take alternative therapies. While there is nothing wrong with that, the patients have to realise that they have to go to the right doctors and seek the right dosages before starting on them,” says Dr Urmilla Thatte, head of the pharmocology department of KEM Hospital.
In fact, her department found that drugs taken by 25% of the patients who report adverse reactions have problematic elements. Some poorly prepared ayurvedic medicines, for instance, are found to have traces of heavy metals such as lead and arsenic. “Having said that, one has to admit that patients are nowadays more aware about drug toxicity than before,” she adds.
Nephrologist Dr Madan Bahadur says 20% of the patients with kidney failure have had some brush with so–called ayurvedic drugs that are nothing but poorly brewed concoctions.
“There are two kinds of patients in this category. One group comprises those directly affected by bad, socalled ayurvedic preoparations. The second group is kidney–failure patients who seek alternative therapies and progress to the endstage kidney disease at least two years before time,” says Dr Bahadur.
In fact, Dr Bahadur and his team at Jaslok Hospital published the first medical paper linking spurious ayurvedic medicines with a patient’s kidney failure.
Anything for a Cure
Issues of Concern
- Not using ayurvedic drugs and other alternative drugs only in the form as described in standard texts
- Making over–the–counter formulations without much heed to the need for individualisation
- Taking ayurvedic drugs in combination with allopathic agents
- Using raw plant material that is possibly polluted by environmental and ecological devastation
- Not having good quality control methodologies
- Many Indian drugs are returned from foreign countries for having a high content of harmful substances
The government is drawing up an Ayurvedic pharmucopia that will detail formulations and dosages for all ayurvedic medicines