An Ontario chemist is hoping his research at the Canadian Light Source’s Synchrotron will better inform those who practice alternative medicine.
Using the Synchrotron’s intensely focused light, Royal Military College of Canada professor Kenneth Reimer has been studying the chemical compounds of various types of ayurvedic medicine.
Ayurveda is popular form of alterative medicine, which is unscientific in its approach. Ayurvedic medicine is found in the form of herbal supplements and various topical oils that are used to alleviate symptoms of various health problems.
Reimer, who travels to Synchrotron a few times a year, is interested in a variety of metal and metalloid compounds that can be traced to the herbs found in many kinds of ayurvedic medicine such as lead and arsenic.
“I do think that there can be a health problem depending on the amount and chemical form of lead and arsenic.”
Although Reimer believes such metals and metalloids to be detrimental health-wise, he and his team of researchers haven’t found concrete evidence verifying that such elements in ayurvedic medicine are in fact damaging.
Despite this, Reimer was clear that some metal and metalloid compounds can sometimes be beneficial.
“We think of arsenic of as a poison but in fact arsenic, in different chemical forms, can be completely non-toxic or it can be completely toxic. Ironically, given in certain doses, it could be used to kill you or be used to treat certain forms of Leukemia quite successfully,” said Reimer.
“Many of these elements have the ability to act as a medicine or as a poison and really its how they are administered and the dose that will determine the outcome.”
Reimer is hoping to use the CLS to discover the volume metal and metalloid contents in ayurvedic medicines, which would then allow consumers to be better informed. Current ayurvedic products often do not list such nutritional information.
Reimer also conducts research at the Advanced Photon Source in Chicago.
Ways Ayurvedic medicine can be used
Ayurvedic medicine can be used to treat everything from glaucoma to memory or cognitive issues and is found in such herbals as turmeric or ginkgo.
The alternative medicine is popular throughout Asia and India, but can also be found in health and nutrition stores across Canada. It is also a booming industry in North America where consumers often order their ayurvedics online.
Sangster’s is a health product chain in Saskatoon that sells aryurvedics. Rheanne Haines is the manager and nutritional consultant at the store’s 8th Street location.
Haines is an advocate of ayurvedic medicine and isn’t worried by such metallic compounds. She said it is no surprise that this brand of alternative medicine contain metals and noted that such compounds can be found in many things we eat, such as carrots or other vegetables.
“It depends on where [the herb is] grown. Metals in herbs are a given. They’re there. Depending on where they’re grown in the soil, metals are absorbed. I do find ayurvedic herbs have a greater incidence of heavier metals — more toxic metals — because they’re grown overseas where there is a lot of toxic metals,” said Haines.
Haines is confident metal content in anyurvedic medicine should decrease in coming years as the non-traditional approach becomes more popular in North America, more herbs begin being grown here and the industry becomes increasingly regulated.