Health departments have warned that a number of lead-based traditional medicines may be the second most common source of lead poisoning in the U.S. Dozens of adults and children have become gravely ill or died after taking lead-laden medicine during the past eight years.
The medicines are usually manufactured outside the U.S. and brought into the country by travelers in their suitcases. Lead is added to some of these medicines because of its supposed curative properties, although doctors say it has no proven medical benefits. In other cases, they become contaminated with lead from soil or through the manufacturing process.
In the Southwest, lead poisoning has been traced to Mexican remedies such as greta, azarcon and rueda powders; they are used to treat constipation in children and contain as much as 90 percent lead.
On the East coast, high lead levels in the blood have been tied to litargirio, a powder containing up to 79 percent lead used by Dominican immigrants to treat ills such as foot fungus and body odor. Dangerous amounts of lead have also been found in Indian ayurvedic medicines such as ghasard, a powder used to relieve constipation in babies, and mahayogaraj gugullu, which is used for high blood pressure.