The sacred sindoor that adorns the forehead of many married Indian women is giving the US drug watchdog the jitters. After recent warnings issued by European and Canadian regulatory authorities over the high level of heavy metals in Indian ayurvedic drugs, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has now issued a warning to US citizens not to use a specific brand of sindoor, owing to its high lead content.
In a warning issued on December 15, the FDA says the Swad brand of sindoor imported by Raja Foods LLC of Skokie, Illinois, contains high levels of lead. Although the product was not intended for food use, its labelling is confusing and implies that it may be used as food.
The Illinois department of public health has confirmed two cases of lead poisoning in consumers who used the product as an ingredient in home cooked meals.
Other uses, including as a cosmetic, can also be dangerous due to the high lead levels, the FDA said in its warning. At least 280 packages of Swad sindoor were distributed to grocery stores that specialise in foods from India in various US states.
According to experts, most sindoor is made from chemical dyes, lead and mercury salts. Harmful salts of lead are used to lend its red colour, which could cause skin allergies and even skin cancer, they warn. Recently, Lucknow-based National Botanical Research Institute developed a herbal sindoor, claimed to be non-toxic and eco-friendly.
Lead can be toxic to all humans. But due to the higher risk it poses to a developing nervous system, women of childbearing age, pregnant women and young children should be especially cautious and limit their exposure to lead.
Last year, Health Canada, a drug regulatory agency, and the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency of the UK advised consumers not to use four unapproved ayurvedic medicinal products from India as they were said to contain potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury or arsenic.