Biological Trace Element Research

, Volume 188, Issue 2, pp 239–244 | Cite as

Heavy Metals in Indigenous Preparations Used for Sex Selection During Pregnancy in India

  • Abhijit Ganguli
  • Pragya Rai
  • Sarala Balachandran
  • Rakesh Gupta
  • Rashmi Sharma
  • Sutapa Bandyopadhyay NeogiEmail author


Indigenous preparations (IPs) have evoked a considerable interest in alleviating infections and chronic diseases and improving wellbeing. While such formulations have been a part of traditional practice in several countries and many have been reviewed scientifically for their claims, several of them until date remain to be investigated. A class of IPs for sex selection by Indian pregnant women exists with an aim of begetting a male offspring. In view of the leads obtained from our previous studies on detrimental effects of the newborn, for instance stillbirths and congenital malformations, we attempted to investigate the samples for heavy metal toxicity. Three samples were chosen following phytochemical analysis and reproductive toxicity of such preparations under in vivo conditions. The selected samples were examined for heavy metals—lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury using Microwave-assisted atomic absorption spectroscopy. The upper limit level of lead, mercury, and cadmium was found to be 18.56, 0.11, and 0.84 mg/kg respectively whereas arsenic was not detected. The levels of lead and mercury were found to be manifolds high in the IP samples that were primarily contributed by its constituents. The results of our study indicate the potential risk conferred upon, to both the mother and fetus on account of high levels of lead, mercury, and cadmium.


Sex selection Indigenous preparations Heavy metals Lead Mercury Pregnancy 


Authors’ Contributions

AG conceptualized the study and provided overall guidance. PR and SBN reviewed the literature and drafted the manuscript. SB, RS, RG, AG provided inputs and finalized the manuscript. All the authors agreed with the final version of the manuscript. All other Authors have read the manuscript and have agreed to submit it in its current form for consideration for publication in the Journal.


This study was conducted as part of a large study supported by Department of Science and Technology, New Delhi; Science and Technology Council, Haryana. The funding body had no role in the design of the study, collection, analysis, and interpretation of data and in writing the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethics Approval and Consent to Participate

This toxicity study was a subset of a larger study funded by Department of Science and Technology (DST) under SEED division and S&T Council, Haryana, for which approval was sought from Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPHD) Institutional Ethics Committee (IEC).

Consent to Publish

The study involved collection of samples of indigenous medicine from different genres of the society. Given the sensitive nature of the topic, we did not take a written consent but an assurance was given by the research team that their details would be kept confidential. Due permission was taken from our IEC.

Competing Interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


  1. 1.
    Thomas S, Arbuckle TE, Fisher M, Fraser WD, Ettinger A, King W (2015) Metals exposure and risk of small-for-gestational age birth in a Canadian birth cohort: the MIREC study. Environ Res 140:430–439CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    David MP, Jennifer SP (2005) Endothelin and oxidative stress in the vascular system. Curr Vasc Pharmacol 3(4):365–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Llanos MN, Ronco AM (2009) Fetal growth restriction is related to placental levels of cadmium, lead and arsenic but not with antioxidant activities. Reprod Toxicol 27(1):88–92CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ashish B, Neeti K, Himanshu K (2013) Copper toxicity: a comprehensive study. Res J Recent Sci 2:58–67Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Chavan NS, Jawale CS (2013) Evaluation of the range of heavy metal concentration and its levels of accumulation in the fish sample of river Savitri at Mahad-MIDC, MS, India. Int Res J Environment Sci 2(7):69–75Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Gunturu KS, Nagarajan P, McPhedran P, Goodman TR, Hodsdon ME, Strout MP (2011) Ayurvedic herbal medicine and lead poisoning. J Hematol Oncol 4:51–51CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Saper RB, Phillips RS, Sehgal A, Khouri N, Davis RB, Paquin J, Thuppil V, Kales SN (2008) Lead, mercury, and arsenic in US- and Indian-manufactured Ayurvedic medicines sold via the Internet. JAMA 300(8):915–923CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Lynch E, Braithwaite R (2005) A review of the clinical and toxicological aspects of ‘traditional’ (herbal) medicines adulterated with heavy metals. Expert Opin Drug Saf 4(4):769–778CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ernst E (2002) Heavy metals in traditional Indian remedies. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 57(12):891–896CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Bhagat N, Laskar A, Sharma N (2012) Women’s perception about sex selection in an urban slum in Delhi. J Reprod Infant Psychol 30(1):92–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Manchanda S, Saikia B, Gupta N, Chowdhary S, Puliyel J (2011) Sex ratio at birth in India, its relation to birth order, sex of previous children and use of indigenous medicine. PLoS One 6(6):e20097CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Neogi S et al (2015) Consumption of indigenous medicines by pregnant women in North India for selecting sex of the foetus: what can it lead to? BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 15(1):208CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Singh A, Sinha S (2016) Risk factors of congenital malformations in North India: a case control study. J Postgrad Med Edu Res 50(1):22–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Neogi SB, Negandhi PH, Sandhu N, Gupta RK, Ganguli A, Zodpey S, Singh A, Singh A, Gupta R (2015) Indigenous medicine use for sex selection during pregnancy and risk of congenital malformations: a population-based case-control study in Haryana, India. Drug Saf 38(9):789–797CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Neogi SB, Negandhi P, Chopra S, Das AM, Zodpey S, Gupta RK, Gupta R (2016) Risk factors for stillbirth: findings from a population-based case-control study, Haryana, India. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol 30(1):56–66CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Genuis SJ, Schwalfenberg G, Siy A-KJ, Rodushkin I (2012) Toxic element contamination of natural health products and pharmaceutical preparations. PLoS One 7(11):e49676CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Balkhair KS, Ashraf MA (2016) Field accumulation risks of heavy metals in soil and vegetable crop irrigated with sewage water in western region of Saudi Arabia. Saudi J Biol Sci 23(1):S32–S44CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Bose-O’Reilly S, McCarty KM, Steckling N, Lettmeier B (2010) Mercury exposure and children’s health. Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care 40(8):186–215CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ernst E (2002) Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG Int J Obstet Gynaecol 109(3):227–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Hunt PR, Olejnik N, Sprando RL (2012) Toxicity ranking of heavy metals with screening method using adult Caenorhabditis elegans and propidium iodide replicates toxicity ranking in rat. Food Chem Toxicol 50(9):3280–3290CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Ikeh-Tawari EP, Anetor JI, Charles-Davies MA (2013) Cadmium level in pregnancy, influence on neonatal birth weight and possible amelioration by some essential trace elements. Toxicol Int 20(1):108–112CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Rai P, et al (2018) Application of C. elegans for elucidating reproductive toxicity of indigenous preparations claimed for sex selection in India. Under publicationGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Wai K, Mar O, Kosaka S, Umemura M, Watanabe C (2017) Prenatal heavy metal exposure and adverse birth outcomes in Myanmar: a birth-cohort study. Int J Environ Res Public Health 14(11):1339CrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Zheng G, Zhong H, Guo Z, Wu Z, Zhang H, Wang C, Zhou Y, Zuo Z (2014) Levels of heavy metals and trace elements in umbilical cord blood and the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes: a population-based study. Biol Trace Elem Res 160(3):437–444CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Al-Saleh I, Shinwari N, Mashhour A, Rabah A (2014) Birth outcome measures and maternal exposure to heavy metals (lead, cadmium and mercury) in Saudi Arabian population. Int J Hyg Environ Health 217(2–3):205–218CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Hu H, Téllez-Rojo MM, Bellinger D, Smith D, Ettinger AS, Lamadrid-Figueroa H, Schwartz J, Schnaas L, Mercado-García A, Hernández-Avila M (2006) Fetal lead exposure at each stage of pregnancy as a predictor of infant mental development. Environ Health Perspect 114(11):1730–1735CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Goyer RA (1990) Transplacental transport of lead. Environ Health Perspect 89:101–105CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Liu J et al (2014) Lead exposure at each stage of pregnancy and neurobehavioral development of neonates. Neurotoxicology 44:1–7CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Zhu M, Fitzgerald EF, Gelberg KH, Lin S, Druschel CM (2010) Maternal low-level lead exposure and fetal growth. Environ Health Perspect 118(10):1471–1475CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Lin S, Hwang SA, Marshall EG, Marion D (1998) Does paternal occupational lead exposure increase the risks of low birth weight or prematurity? Am J Epidemiol 148(2):173–181CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Anonymous (Nutrition C for FS and A. Metals—questions and answers on lead in foods [Internet]. Available at: Accessed 31 Oct 2017
  32. 32.
    Wu J, Ying T, Shen Z, Wang H (2014) Effect of low-level prenatal mercury exposure on neonate neurobehavioral development in China. Pediatr Neurol 51(1):93–99CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Anonymous (2004) Opinion of the scientific panel on contaminants in the food chain on a request from the commission related to mercury and methylmercury in food. EFSA J 34:1–14Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Wier PJ, Miller RK, Maulik D, di Sant'Agnese PA (1990) Toxicity of cadmium in the perfused human placenta. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 105(1):156–171CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Kippler M, Tofail F, Gardner R, Rahman A, Hamadani JD, Bottai M, Vahter M (2012) Maternal cadmium exposure during pregnancy and size at birth: a prospective cohort study. Environ Health Perspect 120(2):284–289CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Organization WH (2011) Cadmium in drinking-water. (Geneva)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PatialaIndia
  2. 2.Public Health Foundation of IndiaIndian Institute of Public HealthDelhiIndia
  3. 3.CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative BiologyDelhiIndia
  4. 4.Government of HaryanaChandigarhIndia
  5. 5.Science for Equity, Empowerment and Development (SEED) DivisionDepartment of Science and TechnologyDelhiIndia

Personalised recommendations