West Yorkshire police said the ‘black tablet’ products were obtained online and manufactured by BMG Herbal Products, which is based in Birmingham.
It is unclear how severe the arsenic poisoning was.
West Yorkshire police said on Friday that a 51-year-old man was arrested and released on bail after their forensic testing confirmed “dangerously high” contamination levels of the product.
The unnamed man was arrested on “suspicion of selling non-medicinal poison.”
A police department spokesperson said the ongoing investigation was a one-off and not part of any wider inquiry into herbal food supplements.
A man answering BMG Herbal Products’ phone said the Birmingham operation had been closed down and refused to comment further. Its website remains active however.
The Indian HQ did not respond to enquiries.
“The MHRA is aware of this incident and is working with police in the West Midlands in the ongoing investigation to establish the facts relating to the products supplied,” the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said.
The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) told NutraIngredients it had no previous dealings with BMG, either for product registration, novel foods or enforcement measures.
Rasa shastra and the Ayurvedic tradition
Dr Robert Verkerk, PhD, executive and scientific director of the Alliance for Natural Health-International (ANH-I), said “I’ve never heard of BMG Herbal – but their claims made on their website are both fanciful and illegal.”
But he said the presence of heavy metals in herbal products was common and not always dangerous. He said the current case seemed to involve rasa shastra products from the Indian Ayurvedic tradition of complementary medicine.
“What is less understood in the West is that there is considerable evidence, especially from India, that properly formulated and manufactured rasa shastra medicines containing heavy metals are not toxic because of the form in which the metals are presented,” Dr Verkerk explained, noting it was not clear if the BMG products met with Indian Pharmacopoeia standards.
“Given how herbals have historically been incorrectly implicated in poisonings or adverse effects, it would also be important to determine if the case of poisoning was genuine and can be unequivocally related to consumption of the herbal product.”
The man was also taking red and silver tablets from BMG which were not found to be contaminated after forensic analysis by police.
West Yorkshire police urged anybody experiencing symptoms related to the supplement to “seek immediate medical advice...”
The MHRA warned: “Natural does not mean safe. To help you choose a herbal medicine that is suitable for you, look for a product that has a Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) or product licence number on the packaging. These products have met the acceptable quality and safety standards.
“If you think you have suffered a side effect to an herbal medicine, please tell us about it through our Yellow Card Scheme.”