Consuming herbal medicines, supplements containing mercury dangerous to health, expert warns

Consuming herbal medicines, supplements containing mercury dangerous to health, expert warns

Alfred Olufemi<

A Professor of Community Medicine and Environmental Health at the University of Portharcourt, Best Ordinioha, has warned Nigerians against the consumption of herbal medicines and supplements containing mercury, noting that they pose serious health risks.

The health expert said while many people think mercury is only contained in fluorescent bulbs, some herbal medicines and supplements been distributed and used by Nigerians also have mercury in them.

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise in an interview, Ordinioha, stated that it has become imperative for Nigerians to be wary of some herbal drugs that contain mercury, stressing that they can be harmful to human health.

“I know that some of them are alternative medicine now, or complementary medicine and they are also referred to as supplements. A lot of them contain mercury and those can be dangerous to health,” he said.

Speaking further, Professor Ordinioha noted that mercury is a neurotoxin that can affect the brain and the nervous system, especially in children.

“It cannot only reduce the intellectual capacity of the child but also cause problems with movement and a lot of other health problems. It can also cause organ damages like renal failure and the rest.”

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Ordinioha also noted that some thermometers and sphygmomanometers, used to measure temperature and blood pressure respectively, contain mercury, adding that when not properly disposed of can be dangerous to the environment and also human health.

“It is becoming a major problem because it is not biodegradable, so we have to do everything to reduce the use it, it is not only the (fluorescent) bulbs there are also some healthcare and domestic products like thermometers and in the hospital, they have this sphygmomanometer they use in measuring blood pressure. It contains mercury.

“So all those things are supposed to be disposed of in a certain way to prevent mercury from leaking or getting into the environment.

“That is why people return some back to the manufacturers because if they get into the environment, get into the water, they are not degradable so they can easily get into the food chain, the water, river and fish or all those aquatic animals they tend to accumulate,” he said.

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He explained that in Nigeria where the disposal of the items is indiscriminate, fishes gotten from the river are more likely to have high mercury content.

He then advised that thermometers and other medical diagnostic tools in hospitals be replaced with digital ones.

According to the World Health Organisation, Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water and soil.

The UN agency stated that mercury exposure – even in small amounts – may cause serious health problems, adding that it is a threat to the development of the child.

“Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. It is considered by WHO as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern,” WHO said.

In addition, a study published on PubMed, an online portal for biomedical literature, life science journals, and health studies, revealed that some herbal supplements contain mercury.

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The researchers from Poland tested some herbal remedies and found that their mercury content exceeded the permissible limit.

“The studies have shown that mercury is present in every examined herbal supplement, and its content exceeds in two preparations (with bamboo and alga) the permissible limit of 0.10 mg/kg.

“There were statistically significant differences in the occurrence of mercury depending on the herbal ingredient in the supplement. The mercury content of the tested herbal supplements was in the range of 0.02–4212 μg/kg,” the researchers said.

The researchers cautioned that to increase consumer safety, it is important to “conduct further research on dietary supplements and implement a stricter quality control of the dietary supplements.”


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