DES MOINES – A woman who claims she contracted lead poisoning after taking an herbal preparation marketed as a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi product is suing Maharishi corporations in federal court.
Frances Gaskell, who lives in Maharishi Vedic City north of Fairfield, filed the lawsuit in the Southern District of Iowa.
In the lawsuit, she alleges the respondents — Maharishi Vedic Education Development Corp., Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation and Maharishi Ayurveda Products Ltd. — are guilty of defective product design, breach of implied warranties and failure to warn.
Gaskell also charges that those three entities plus a clinic in Delhi, India, called the Maharishi Ayurveda Arogyadham, and Dr. J.R. Raju, a master Ayurvedic physician and healer, are guilty of intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation and conspiracy.
Robert Roth, spokesman for the Maharishi Vedic Education Development Corp., said this week that the company is not involved in the manufacture, prescription or sale of Ayurveda remedies or herbs. Ayurveda is a form of alternative health care from India marketed by the Maharishi and his followers.
“We have no knowledge concerning the preparations Mrs. Gaskell allegedly obtained directly from India, apparently from another source,” Roth said.
He said the corporation’s only role is teaching the Transcendental Meditation to people in the United States.
Gaskell alleges Raju in December 2006 prescribed the herb Garbhapal Ras for her when she was four months pregnant. After taking the herb, Gaskell claims she began to feel lethargic, that her hands and feet went numb and that she suffered severe back and abdominal pain.
Tests on April 16, 2007, showed she had a blood lead level of 102 micrograms per deciliter — more than 20 times the level considered safe by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gaskell underwent chelation therapy while pregnant, but her child was born with an elevated blood lead level of 60 micrograms per deciliter.
Tests by the Iowa Department of Public Health found the herb Garbhapal Ras was comprised of nearly 3 percent lead. Maharishi Ayurveda Products Ltd. is identified on the product bottle as the manufacturer, the lawsuit states.
Health risks associated with ingesting lead have been known at least since 1978, when lead paint was banned in the United States.
Roth said numerous companies sell Maharishi Ayurveda herbs and treatments in the United States and that he understands the preparations are subject to testing, inspection and quality control to ensure they are free of toxins.
“These products have been on the market for 30 years, and it’s the first time I’ve heard of anything like this,” added Steve Yellin, media spokesman for the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield.
Gaskell, who is being represented by the Cedar Rapids legal firm Brady & O’Shea, is asking for a jury trial.