Warning: A Potent Neurotoxin – Lead – Found in Turmeric by Stanford Researchers

Warning: A Potent Neurotoxin – Lead – Found in Turmeric by Stanford Researchers

A service provider shows powdered and entire spices, together with turmeric in the Karwan Bazar of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit score: Abir Abdullah/Asian Improvement Financial institution

It’s billed as a well being booster and therapeutic agent, however it could be the supply of cognitive defects and different extreme illnesses. A new Stanford-led study reveals that turmeric – a generally used spice all through South Asia – is typically adulterated with a lead-laced chemical compound in Bangladesh, one of many world’s predominant turmeric-growing areas.

Lengthy banned from meals merchandise, lead is a potent neurotoxin thought-about unsafe in any amount. A related analysis revealed lately confirms for the primary time that turmeric is probably going the first contributor to elevated blood lead ranges amongst Bangladeshis surveyed.

“Persons are unknowingly consuming one thing that would trigger main well being points,” stated the papers’ lead creator Jenna Forsyth, a postdoctoral scholar on the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “We all know adulterated turmeric is a supply of lead publicity, and we’ve to do one thing about it.”

The primary research, obtainable on-line in Environmental Analysis, includes a spread of analyses, together with interviews with farmers and spice processors in a number of Bangladesh districts, which collectively produce practically half of the nation’s turmeric. Many traced the problem to the Nineteen Eighties, when a large flood left turmeric crops moist and comparatively boring in colour. Demand for brilliant yellow curry led turmeric processors so as to add lead chromate – an industrial yellow pigment generally used to paint toys and furnishings – to their product. The observe continued as an affordable, quick solution to produce a fascinating colour.

As a potent neurotoxin, lead will increase the danger of coronary heart and mind illness in adults and interferes with kids’s mind improvement. About 90 % of youngsters with elevated blood lead ranges stay in lower-income international locations, and ensuing cognitive damages are related to practically one trillion {dollars} in misplaced productiveness yearly.

“In contrast to different metals, there isn’t any protected consumption restrict for lead, it’s a neurotoxin in its totality,” stated the papers’ senior creator Stephen Luby, professor of medication and the director of analysis for Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health. “We can not console ourselves proposing that if the contamination have been all the way down to such and such degree, it will have been protected.”

The associated research, revealed Sept. 17 in Environmental Science & Expertise, checked out varied potential sources of blood lead degree contamination in Bangladeshis. Lead comes in varied varieties, referred to as isotopes, and the ratios of these isotopes range by the lead’s origin. The researchers have been in a position to fingerprint lead chromate-adulterated turmeric because the more than likely wrongdoer by matching it to guide isotopes in folks’s blood. The analysis is the primary to immediately hyperlink lead in turmeric to guide ranges in blood.

The researchers didn’t discover direct proof of contaminated turmeric past Bangladesh, and so they level out that meals security checks by the importing international locations have incentivized large-scale Bangladesh spice processors to restrict the quantity of lead added to turmeric destined for export. Nonetheless, the researchers warning, “the present system of periodic meals security checks might catch solely a fraction of the adulterated turmeric being traded worldwide.” In actual fact, since 2011, greater than 15 manufacturers of turmeric – distributed to international locations together with the U.S. – have been recalled as a consequence of extreme ranges of lead.

Whereas these recollects and former research discovered the presence of lead in turmeric, none clearly recognized the supply (some prompt it is likely to be linked to soil contamination), proved the hyperlink to blood lead ranges or revealed the issue’s pervasiveness and incentives perpetuating it.

Since 2014, Forsyth, Luby and Scott Fendorf, the Terry Huffington Professor in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences – co-authors on each papers – have labored in rural Bangladesh to evaluate lead publicity. With funding from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Surroundings, they first performed a inhabitants evaluation that discovered greater than 30 % of pregnant girls had elevated blood lead ranges.

The researchers now plan to give attention to shifting client behaviors away from consuming contaminated turmeric and decreasing incentives for the observe. They recommend simpler and environment friendly drying applied sciences for turmeric processing. Additionally they suggest that import inspectors all over the world display turmeric with X-ray units that may detect lead and different chemical compounds.

Though few low-cost solutions appear available in Bangladesh, the researchers recommend participating shoppers, producers and different stakeholders centered on meals security and public well being might present the seeds of an answer. To that finish, Forsyth, Luby and Fendorf are a part of an interdisciplinary challenge staff, funded by the Stanford King Center on Global Development, in search of options to cut back lead publicity from turmeric, battery recycling and different sources in Bangladesh and past.

Amongst different objectives, the staff plans to develop enterprise alternatives that cut back lead publicity. One staff member, bioengineer Manu Prakash, is creating low-cost applied sciences to measure lead in turmeric, blood and different sources. Different collaborators, Shilajeet Banerjee and Erica Plambeck, are learning methods to shift demand and create enterprise alternatives for lead-free turmeric.

“Jenna’s exceptional work permits us to collaborate with stakeholders in Bangladesh to focus on efficient prevention,” Luby stated.


Luby can also be a senior fellow on the Freeman Spogli Institute for Worldwide Research, a member of Stanford Bio-X and a member of the Youngster Well being Analysis Institute. Luby, Fendorf and Plambeck are senior fellows on the Stanford Woods Institute for the Surroundings. Plambeck is the Charles A. Holloway Professor of Operations, Info & Expertise in the Stanford Graduate Faculty of Enterprise. Banerjee is Professor of the Apply in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Surroundings and Assets. Co-authors additionally embrace Nicole Ardoin, an affiliate professor in Stanford’s Graduate Faculty of Schooling and a senior fellow on the Stanford Woods Institute for the Surroundings.

The Environmental Analysis research consists of co-authors from the Worldwide Centre for Diarrhoeal Illness Analysis, Bangladesh and Johns Hopkins College.

Stanford co-authors for the Environmental Science & Expertise research embrace Karrie Weaver, a analysis and improvement scientist in Stanford’s Faculty of Earth, Vitality & Environmental Sciences; Kate Maher, an affiliate professor of Earth system science and a senior fellow on the Stanford Woods Institute for the Surroundings. Extra co-authors are from the Worldwide Centre for Diarrhoeal Illness Analysis, Bangladesh.

Reference: “Turmeric means ‘yellow’ in Bengali: Lead chromate pigments added to turmeric threaten public well being throughout Bangladesh” by Jenna E. Forsyth, Syeda Nurunnahar, Sheikh Shariful Islam, Musa Baker, Dalia Yeasmin, M. Saiful Islam, Mahbubur Rahman, Scott Fendor, Nicole M. Ardoin, Peter J. Winch and Stephen P. Luby, 6 September 2019, Environmental Analysis.
DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.108722

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