OTTAWA - A natural health product is being voluntarily recalled after it was found to contain an excessive amount of mercury, Health Canada said Thursday.

Bi Yan Pian (NPN# 80023876), a Chinese medicine authorized for sale as a natural health product by Health Canada, was available for purchase at stores across Canada and via the Internet.

The sample tested contained mercury at a level of 2.43 micrograms per kilogram body weight per day, an amount nearly 10 times higher than the daily maximum limit set by Health Canada for natural health products, the agency said.

Ingesting excessive amounts of mercury poses serious health risks because it may accumulate in the body's vital organs. The risk increases with the amount and length of time the mercury is ingested. Children are most susceptible.

Symptoms of short-term exposure to high levels of mercury may include nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, muscle cramps, diarrhea, numbness or "pins and needles" sensation in the hands and feet, malaise or blurred vision, heart abnormalities, anemia, liver and nervous system problems.

The toxic effects of longer-term exposure to high mercury levels include irritability, tremors, speech difficulties, loss of hearing and constriction of visual fields, memory loss, insomnia, concentration problems, and kidney and brain damage.

Consumers who have used the product and are concerned about its effects can consult a health-care practitioner. For additional information, contact Wing Quon Enterprises Ltd. of Richmond, B.C., at 1-604-273-5028.

For more information, contact Health Canada at 613-957-2991 or toll free at 1-866-225-0709.