Friday, 19 December 2014

Calabash Chalk or Nzu contains lead and arsenic

The US FDA has released a statement based on finding from the Texas Department of State Health Services on December 23, 2009:

The Texas Department of State Health Services is warning consumers, especially pregnant or breastfeeding women, to avoid consuming a traditional product called “Nzu” because of the potential health risks from high levels of lead and arsenic.

Nzu, which is consumed as a traditional remedy for morning sickness, has been found by DSHS food inspectors at two African specialty stores – one in the Dallas area and one in Houston. It was also found at a distributor in Houston. The product generally resembles balls of clay or mud and also is called Calabash clay, Calabar stone, Mabele, Argile and La Craie.

Laboratory analysis by DSHS found high levels of lead and arsenic in this product.

Exposure to lead can result in a number of harmful effects, and a developing child is particularly at risk of effects on the brain and nervous system. Arsenic is a carcinogen, and excessive long-term exposure to it has been associated with a range of adverse health effects, including cancers of the urinary bladder, lung and skin.

The Nzu may be covered in a brown or white “dust” and is usually sold in small plastic bags with a handwritten label identifying it as “Nzu” or “Salted Nzu.”

Anyone who has been ingesting the product should contact their health care provider.
The source of the product in Texas is not yet known. Inspectors with DSHS are continuing to investigate.

Ingesting soil, particularly mineral-rich clay, is a practice called geophagy. Various kinds of earth have been a folk remedy common to many cultures, primarily for gastrointestinal complaints.

In fact, that is where the name “Terra Sigillata” is derived.

Terra Sigillata was a fatty clay harvested from the Greek isle of Lemnos and contained at least one component found in today’s Kaopectate diarrhea remedy. A special ceremony would be held to harvest the clay where it would be cut into planchets, embossed with an official seal, then dried and sold. Terra Sigillata stands in pharmacy history as the first trademarked medicine.

Geophagy is also why South Carolinians are sometimes called “sandlappers” and why this Nigerian remedy is often called “Calabash Clay” or “Calabash Chalk.” (Calabash is a coastal town right at the border between North and South Carolina. A style of spiced seafood, usually shrimp, is also known as Calabash.)

Furthermore, Public Health England (PHE) are warning pregnant women against the use of a potentially poisonous chalk product as a nutritional supplement or morning sickness ‘antidote’. The warning follows reports of use of ‘Calabash chalk’ by pregnant women in Asian and African communities in London.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued advice that these products should not be eaten, especially by pregnant and nursing mothers, due to the possibility of these products being toxic.

Diane Benford, from the FSA, said:

Tests of Calabash Chalk previously taken by the FSA have shown high levels of lead. For pregnant women, eating this product may result in harmful effects to their unborn baby, which is particularly at risk of effects on the nervous system.

The FSA has issued hazard warnings to request that local authorities visit food businesses and remove Calabash Chalk from sale. It is also working with the Department of Health, health professionals and consumer groups to communicate this information to pregnant and nursing mothers, particularly in the communities who are likely to eat Calabash Chalk or similar products.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, regional director for PHE London, said:

It is of great concern to us that pregnant women may be taking these chalk products as a nutritional supplement during pregnancy. Exposure to heavy metals, like lead, should be kept as low as practically possible under all circumstances, but particularly during pregnancy when the risk of adverse effects is large.

If you are suffering from severe morning sickness during pregnancy you should speak to your GP or midwife who will be able to advise you on safe treatment. We strongly advise against taking any medicinal or ‘remedy’ product while pregnant without talking to your GP or health visitor about the health risk.

Source: Scienceblogs