New Delhi, Dec 31: If you thought unsafe water alone caused fluorosis poisoning, think again. Black salt and black tea are equally dangerous, an ongoing study has shown.
Consuming them means not only bone and joint pain, anaemia, fatigue and blockage of blood vessels but also destruction of the stomach and intestinal lining.
For pregnant women, consuming tangy tasting black salt could mean giving birth to a low-weight child who would attract diseases fast. On occasions, the baby’s organs may not be properly developed, the study has shown.
These findings are part of the ongoing study conducted by A K Susheela, executive director of Fluorosis Research and Rural Development Foundation, who analysed expecting mothers at Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital in west Delhi.
“When we ruled out that unsafe water was not the cause for pregnant women being anaemic, we turned to what they were consuming,” she said.
“We found they were drinking black tea and eating ready- made spices, chat-papri, namkeens and pickles that contain black salt,” she said.
“A further probe showed they were using ready-made spices, canned fruit juices, pickles and namkeens — all laced with black salt. What alarmed us was when women who were not advised about not contining black salt gave birth to low-weight children,” she said.
Due to the importance of the findings, the department of science and technology, which funded the project, is holding a meeting on January four to discuss the effects of fluorosis poisioning due to food on pregnant women and unborn children.
“Maternal mortality rate is high in India because of anaemia. Some die on the operating table if there is a complication because they don’t get blood,” Susheela said. Susheela’s assistant for the project, gynaecologist Kamla Ganesh said 1,700 pregnant women were screened during the nearly two-year-long study.
“Around 1,700 women, who were 20 weeks into their pregnancy, were selected on the basis of their having haemoglobin less than nine grams. A urine test was conducted to detect fluoride poisoning in them,” she said.
“Those with poisoning were divided into two groups — one that was advised to avoid food that had black salt and black tea and the other which was not given any suggestions.” The researchers followed the progress of the women in both the groups till they gave birth.
“The group which was not given any dietary advice was found to be anaemic and they also complained about constipation and weakness. The children born of women in this group were all below 2.5 kg, while children of those who were given advice were healthy,” Ganesh said.
Even pregnant women who were not detected with fluoride poisoning were found to be giving birth to not-so-healthy children, she said.
Susheela said the study assumes importance because the government has been concerned about pregnancy-related anaemia among women who gave birth to low-weight childen.
“Women are dying of anaemia. Tackling anaemia is important,” she said. “The government has been providing would-be mothers iron and folic acid tablets for the past 30 years. But it has not made any dent.”
“If changing their diet could make them healthy, then why not? Doctors have always thought pregnant women attending ante-natal clinics were not regular with the tablets and did not know it is all due to black salt,” Susheela said. Not waiting for the final results that are expected next year, the ministry thought of taking the advice of experts on the study. The department of science and technology’s women’s scheme officer said, “We have called a meeting on January 4 to study the interim report.” The meeting will be attended by 14 others, including officials of the health ministry, ministry of women and child development, Indian Council of Medical Research and gynaecologists, obstetricians and paediatricians.
“We want the expert group to look into the findings. We have asked two other institutes to look into the nature of the composition of black salt in fast foods,” the officer said.
“We will view the ramifications and what (Susheela) has suggested is not so complex, one has to just tell the pregnant women not to eat certain foods.” Susheela said apart from pregnant women, the experts advised the entire family about the harmful effects of black salt.
“People like seasoning on their food and black salt is tangy and adds taste to food. Even when women fast they eat their food sprinkled with black salt so that they get some taste. Also people should not drink tea without milk,” she said.
Susheela, who has been working on fluoride poisioning since the 1990s when she was at AIIMS, said her earlier study in the Palam area had shown that unsafe water was the cause of the phenomenon. “I suggested some changes and the Delhi Jal Board was quick enough to provide better water. So I knew water was not the culprit. When someone suggested that I should work with anaemic pregnant women and find whether they were suffering from fluoride poisoning, I accepted it,” she said.
She said detecting fluoride poisoning is difficult. “It is important to diagnose the disease. Doctors get confused when they get patients who complain about stomach and joint pains. But no hospital is interested in buying the testing equipment that costs only Rs 1 lakh,” she said.
Her first study, carried out on animals, showed how unsafe water ruins stomach, destroys the intestinal lining and causes wounds in the stomach that are detected only though endoscopy.
“I carried out the tests on animals to prove fluoride poisoning due to unsafe water. The study was published in an international journal. Seeing the importance of fluoride poisoning, I carried my research further,” she said.