Herbal medicines (HMDs) are widely used in some countries. However, a consumer's health may be threatened when pollutants are present in HMDs and a high quantity of these medications is consumed. This work was conducted to evaluate the accumulation of toxic elements and the potential human health risks associated with high consumption of HMDs in Zahedan, Iran. In this study, 15 brands of popular HMDs were selected from five pharmacies. In each pharmacy, three HMD samples were randomly chosen, for a total of 225 samples, and evaluated for 11 elements. Inductively coupled plasma–optical emission spectrometry was used to analyze cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), nickel (Ni), chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), and aluminum (Al) in each sample. Total arsenic (As) and mercury (Hg) were measured by atomic absorption spectrometry. The human health risk of each element from ingestion of each HMD was estimated. The mean concentrations of these elements in different types of HMDs were highly variable and significantly different within the same type of HMD (P < 0.001). All samples contained detectable concentrations of target elements. However, the mean concentrations of each element in all HMDs were significantly lower than the legal limit published by the World Health Organization. The outcomes of this work indicated that for both children and adults, the target hazard quotient (THQ) for each metal and the hazard index (HI) for all metals in all types of HMDs were significantly lower than the acceptable limit (THQ and HI = 1). The incremental lifetime cancer risk (ILCR) for each carcinogenic metal and the total carcinogenic risk (TCR) for all carcinogenic metals also were lower than the acceptable limit (ILCR and TCR = 10−4).
HMDs are becoming more popular in some countries.
Contaminants such as toxic elements in HMDs can threaten consumer health.
THQ values for each metal were lower than the acceptable limit in all HMDs.
HI values for all metals were lower than the acceptable limit in all HMDs.
ILCR for each metal and TCR for all metals were below acceptable limits.