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Lawsuit: Supplements traced to India laced with lead, other toxins

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Regulators warned about the toxicity of Baidyanath supplements in 2015, but a new suit aims to collect after a man allegedly nearly died from taking them.

Lawyers for a 36-year-old New Jersey man who consumed a large number of supplements sourced to an India-based company say the decision nearly killed him, according to a civil complaint filed last month.

Independent testing of the supplements branded as Baidyanath—which are marketed and sold online, and globally distributed for retail sales—revealed high levels of lead and other toxic substances, attorneys with the Berg & Androphy firm said in a filing in the Eastern District of New York.

The plaintiff in the case, Thilo Weiss, purchased the Baidyanath supplements in India, on the advice of an ayurvedic practitioner there ostensibly assisting Weiss and his wife with fertility, according to the complaint.

Weiss, then a resident of New York City, ingested the supplements upon his return to the U.S., and “then went through several agonizing weeks of pain and nausea that resulted in several trips to, and stays in, the hospital and fears that he would die,” his lawyers claim.

Blood tests, as well as laboratory tests of the supplements, allegedly showed “terrifying levels of lead,” as well as the highly poisonous elements arsenic and mercury. Lawyers said that one of the supplements Weiss took contained 30% lead and mercury.

The three Baidyanath supplements Weiss took were Pushpadhanwa Ras, Shukramatrika Bati and Manmath Ras. All three continue to be sold online via numerous websites and notably advertise as having “no side effects.” Weiss’ lawyers said testing of the supplements showed lead levels that were thousands of times greater than what either the U.S. or India deems safe.

In addition to the Kolkata-based company Shree Baidyanath Ayurved Bhawan Pvt. Ltd., 10 individuals characterized as “owners/members” of the company are named as defendants: Abhinav Gaur, Sureshkumar Ramnarayan Sharma, Ajay Sharma, Ram Krishan Sharma, Pramod Sharma, Shivnath Ramnarayan Sharma, Anurang Sharma, Anand Sharma, Arvind Sharma and Naveen Sharma. All are residents of India, according to the complaint.

Weiss began taking two pills of each supplement daily in January 2019, after returning from India, lawyers detailed. By March, they said he was experiencing fatigue, shortness of breath, memory lapses and “fuzzy” headspace, so he decided then to stop taking the supplements.

But his health got worse, lawyers contend, and in April he went to the hospital complaining of severe abdominal pains, nausea, dizziness and mental confusion. A battery of tests showed a severely depleted red blood cell count and a digestive system that had ground to a halt.

A blood test on April 17 showed lead levels in Weiss’ blood that were nearly 10 times what CDC considers “high.” He was administered strong painkillers that produced hallucinations, as well as succimer, a chelating agent to purge heavy metals from the system, and also dozens of painful intramuscular injections of Dimercaprol, which is used to treat acute lead and arsenic poisoning. Doctors told Weiss’ wife that he was likely going to die, lawyers contend.

While his health improved in May and June, high levels of lead returned as Weiss’ bones purged the poison into his bloodstream. “At present, doctors are unsure whether (Weiss’) body will ever fully purge itself of the poisons from the (supplements),” the complaint reads.

Lawyers are seeking compensatory damages in excess of $75,000 in six separate counts, as well as punitive damages.

Baidyanth supplements previously have been targeted by regulators in both the U.S. and Canada, for the exact reason Weiss’ lawyers raised in their complaint: excessive levels of toxic elements.

In 2015, FDA tested 10 Baidyanth supplements and issued a public warning that they contained unsafe levels of lead and mercury. Similar warnings were issued in Canada.

Despite regulators’ admonitions, Baidyanth supplements continue to be marketed and sold around the world. Attorneys noted that the company recently boasted about having 10,000 global distributors; Baidyanth-branded products are offered for sale at physical retail locations, and can also be ordered through a number of U.S.-based websites, including Amazon. The company also sells products in the U.S. under alternate brand names including Kapiva, Goodcare and Ayurvedant, and established the Michigan-based Mantra Herbal Solutions Inc. to help with U.S. distribution, lawyers contend.

In a 2017 interview, the company said it expected to export $80 million worth of products to the U.S. in 2020.

Jenny Kim, Berg & Androphy’s lead lawyer on the case, said she is not aware of any cases involving supplements where this type of international, long-arm jurisdiction has been upheld.

But, “because Baidyanath maintains a U.S. commercial website, they are subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts,” she said in an email.

Kim said the defendants in the case have yet to be officially served, as the process is lengthy and involves the Hague Service Convention, which provides the procedures for the transmission of judicial documents among countries that have signed on to the overarching Hague Convention. India signed on to the charter in 2006, and it was entered into force in 2007, according to a list of member countries.

Baidyanth did not respond to an email seeking comment about the lawsuit.

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