Ayurvedic drug backed by AYUSH ministry causes liver damage, study finds
The BJP-led central government’s blanket promotion of all things herbal does not seem like a good idea, as medical groups have reported severe liver damage in some people triggered by an Ayurvedic herb called Giloy, whose consumption has been promoted as an immune stimulant to prevent and treat Covid-19.
In a multicenter study, physicians from 12 cities reported Giloy (Guduchi in Sanskrit)-induced liver toxicity in at least 43 patients. This is the second study with a similar conclusion in the past nine months after another group of Mumbai doctors reported Giloy-induced liver injury in six patients.
The Union Ministry of Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH), which has fought for the herb and issued three press releases in the past nine months claiming that Giloy is safe, admitted that an overdose of Giloy could be dangerous, without explaining how much of the herb would be considered safe.
Read also | Giloy safe; misleading to link it to liver damage: Center
“At present, we know that Giloy causes autoimmune-type liver injury, and liver injury is not dose-dependent. This is idiosyncratic liver injury, which is a type of liver injury which can occur with any dose and any duration of use and not just an overdose,” said Cyriac Abby Phillips, liver specialist at Rajagiri Hospital in Aluva, who led the multicentre study.
“This is very dangerous because people with silent autoimmune disorders or those with confirmed autoimmune diseases (such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis) should be warned against taking of Giloy because it can potentially activate and modulate the immune system for the worse and can cause flare-ups of immune-mediated organ damage, especially in the liver,” he said. DH.
DH contacted AYUSH Secretary Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha to ask for his comments on what might be the appropriate dose for Giloy but has yet to receive a response even after two weeks.
However, in a press release issued on February 16, 2022, the ministry said, “Giloy is an herb popularly known for its immense therapeutic applications in traditional medicine systems and has been used in the management of Covid-19. Considering the overall health benefits, the herb cannot be considered poisonous.
“Giloy or Guduchi has been used in Ayurveda for a long time. Its effectiveness in the management of various disorders is no longer to be demonstrated. To associate Giloy with liver damage would be misleading and disastrous for the Indian traditional medicine system,” the AYUSH Ministry said in another press release on July 7, 2021.
The two statements were released after the publication of the two studies describing the herb’s adverse effects and advising people to proceed with caution when using herbal remedies.
“All medicines, ‘traditional’ or otherwise, must undergo the same levels of formal testing for their safety (and to actually have useful effects!). The various ‘passes’ granted by regulatory systems to many ‘Non-traditional’ drugs in these respects are incorrect,” commented immunologist Satyajit Rath, who is not involved in either study.
“Since Guduchi is represented as (and sold as) something that ‘enhances immunity’, I have to point out that the idea of a general immunostimulant ‘drug’ is extremely problematic, so much so that it’s almost a relief that most, if not all, of such ‘immunity boosters’ sold on the market actually ‘do’ nothing great for the immune system,” said Rath, who retired from the National Institute of Delhi immunology.
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