Lead poisoning has been detected in several women who took Ayurvedic medicines during their pregnancy, according to a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The findings of the research that documented cases in New York City have triggered a debate over the safety of using Ayurvedic medicines manufactured in India.  

According to the researchers, six women in New York City who took the traditional pills during pregnancy were found to be at a high risk of lead poisoning, as seen in an assessment by the health officials during 2011-2012.  State law in New York requires the assessment of the lead exposure risk of a pregnant woman.

Lead poisoning can cause severe damage to the brain, kidneys, and nervous and reproductive systems. Fetal exposure to lead can adversely affect neurodevelopment, decrease fetal growth and increase the risk for premature birth and miscarriage.

Out of the six cases investigated by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), five were India-born pregnant women, who were investigated for exposure to lead associated with the use of 10 oral Ayurvedic pills. The study found that foreign-born pregnant women were at greater risk of lead poisoning.

"More than 70% of pregnant women with elevated BLLs interviewed by DOHMH in 2011 reported using foreign traditional or familiar products from their ancestral countries, such as cosmetics, medications, remedies, food, and pottery, suggesting that health-care providers should question pregnant women about their use of such products," the report said.

According to the study, a 30-year-old India-born woman who took one or two Pregnita capsules (an Ayurvedic medication manufactured in India) daily for four months had a BLL of 64 µg/dL during the 27th week of pregnancy. The woman said she was prescribed the medicine by an Ayurvedic practitioner in India to treat pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting. Later, the researchers found 1.2 percent of lead content in Pregnita.

Another 24-year-old woman from India had a BLL of 42 µg/dL reported during the eighth week of pregnancy. The woman reportedly had a history of miscarriages and had taken four Ayurvedic medicines approximately two months before pregnancy to promote fertility. The report said that the tests conducted by the researchers showed that the medicine, Ovarin, was found to contain as much as 1.2 percent lead, 1,000 ppm arsenic and 1.8 percent mercury.

Ayurveda is a popular and traditional healthcare system practiced in India. The medicines and the ingredients are based on natural products like herbs.