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Foraging for mushrooms this Spring? A new CDC report discusses the consequences of poisonous mushroom ingestion. What you need to know before hunting.
In the wet, early Spring months in the Midwest and elsewhere, you can find a plethora of folks out and about, prowling for the elusive and valuable Morel mushroom. Other popular edible mushrooms in the region include Chanterelle and Oyster. However, lurking within this delicious and (potentially) lucrative pastime is the possibility for poisoning from ingestion of toxic mushrooms. A recent report by the CDC reviewed accidental poisoning data from the consumption of foraged mushrooms. They identified an estimated 1,328 emergency department visits in 2016 alone from poisonous mushroom ingestion with over 100 hospitalizations. The most common symptoms were gastrointestinal, neurologic, cardiac, and respiratory. Serious adverse effects occurred in nearly 9% of poisoning cases from 2016-2018, and included cardiac arrythmia, acute renal failure, liver failure, and seizure. And, because poisonings of this nature are not always reported, these data likely underestimate the occurrence of adverse effects.
The “Morel” of the story? Know before you go. Forage with an expert or seek training on mushroom identification prior to starting out. Nowadays, many apps and guides are available and can be downloaded on your smartphone. Understand that poisonous mushrooms may closely resemble non-poisonous ones, they should never be consumed unless identified by an expert, and consumption of misidentified mushrooms can lead to sickness and in some cases, death.
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Oleander and COVID-19
Recent news reports have been covering the suggestion that extracts from the natural Oleander plant may have benefits in treating COVID-19. While compounds from many natural plants have been used for medicines, as with all chemicals, the safety of natural materials needs to be carefully studied. Remember, the dose is what can differentiate a remedy from a poison. Oleander contains a potent cardiac toxin and poisonings from it have been known for centuries. At TEF, we think the following article addresses the concerns well.
Bottom line--There appears to be very little rigorous evidence that Oleander provides a benefit in treating COVID-19. Until there is good science, taking a natural substance that is well known as a lethal poison is ill-advised.
Smoking and Cancer—Even a modest amount raises risk!
Smoking causes lung cancer. That’s a fact. But, many people may wonder if even a small amount of nondaily smoking is also associated with lung cancer. According to research recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, even relatively modest nondaily smoking was significantly associated with increased risk. They also found that the risk follows dose-response with risk increasing from as little as 6-10 cigarettes per month. In this study, the researchers used the Tobacco Use Supplements to the Current Population Survey (TUS-CPS) of The National Cancer Instituteto evaluate the linkage of smoking habits and risk for lung cancer in a cohort of over 500,000 people studied from 1992-2011. Bottom line, even if you only smoke a modest amount, you’ll benefit from quitting.
Why Take Chances With the Flu?
Influenza season is upon us. Last year many unfortunate deaths occurred among children and adults who never got a seasonal flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a seasonal flu vaccination for anyone 6 years and older (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/) and addresses important vaccines for pregnant women (Maternal Vaccines: Part of a Healthy Pregnancy). According to the CDC, an optimal time to receive the seasonal flu vaccine is by the end of October. Although vaccination early in the season minimizes the chances of contracting the flu, getting a flu shot later in the season can still reduce serious illnesses and deaths.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may be especially hesitant to receive a flu shot if they do not fully understand the consequences. Which is riskier to them, their unborn children and their newborn babies---getting the flu or taking the vaccine? Why not explore the information and resources and discuss with your health care provider for optimal protection for you and your baby?
MotherToBaby Fact Sheets explain all of the added risks to mother and baby if a pregnant woman gets the flu. The safety of the flu vaccine and benefits of preventing a serious case of the flu by choosing to receive a seasonal flu vaccination are also clearly explained in the seasonal flu vaccine Fact Sheet. The Flu Vaccination Fact Sheet also points out those infants who do contract the flu are at increased risk for severe cases of the disease. Since infants cannot receive the flu shot until they are six months old, vaccinating the mother and other caregivers may help protect babies from getting the flu. Read all about this and more in these Fact Sheets and ask yourself: Is not getting vaccinated worth the risk?
Welcome To The Poison Garden: Medicine's Medieval Roots…
A recent NPR article tells the story of the Duchess of Northumberland's (aka Jane Percy) "Poison Garden." This special garden was started in 2005 as part of the 12-acre, elaborate garden on the grounds of her family's home, Alnwick Castle, in northeast England. Apothecary gardens were a traditional part of English villages and castles for centuries. Many of England's cities and towns have apothecary ("druggist's") gardens - historical plots containing plants turned into treatments centuries ago by doctors, herbalists, religious folks and shamans. Most such gardens exist today to teach visitors about the history of medicine, according to the NPR story.
As the story explains, plants evolved poisonous properties to keep from being eaten, according to Dr. Henry Oakeley, who has studied the medicinal effects of plants as a Garden Fellow at the Royal College of Physicians. Some of those same chemicals that began as plant protection, he says, are now used to help people - by killing cancer cells, say, or quieting an overactive muscle or a painful nerve cell. Yet, there can be a fine line between curing and killing. Remember, "the dose makes the poison!" Read more about this issue in TEF's Tox Topic entitled, "Venomous or Poisonous - Animals, Plants, Mushrooms, and More" on this site.
Read more of the NPR story by following the link below.
Mystery solved! An illness in children that baffled public health officials in India for many years was determined to be caused by the toxicity of natural products in lychee fruit consumed by malnourished children.
The New York Times reported on the important discovery from a study which was published in the journal, Lancet Global Health. Scientists from India and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta collaborated to solve the mystery and warn consumers of the risk. Numbers of cases have dropped dramatically in response. Another example of “natural” not necessarily being “safe,” and pre-existing individual factors coupled with exposure to natural toxins resulting in variability in responses to the poison. Read more in the link below.
Eat a healthy diet (lots of fruits and veggies!) as an informed consumer and remember…. The Dose Makes the Poison!
A recent article in the Washington Post addresses the issue of the effect of “lists” of “good” and “bad” things in your food basket and shows that such lists have an influence on consumers but not always to their benefit. It makes the point that is in keeping with basic toxicology principles that the mere presence of a “toxic” chemical does not necessarily mean that it presents a risk or that the food containing that chemical is “bad” for you. So, while it is always good to know the benefits and the risks of foods in our diet, avoiding foods on lists based on hazards, or potential for harm, will not mean that you are making the best decisions for your health or that paying more for “organic” will make those foods better for you. See the linked Washington Post article below for more information.
The President has signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act into law with strong support but some concerns from the toxicology community.
The President signed the bill to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) after 40 years. The compromise bill was the subject of much debate over the last five years and was the subject of a Task Force of the Society of Toxicology who worked to assure that strong scientific principles were embodied in the final language. While widely praised as a significant improvement over the current law, issues remained for some constituencies. See the link below for further information.
Graphic Cigarette Warnings Deter Smokers
A study described in The Science Times on June 14, 2016 provides the first hard evidence that graphic warnings aid in smoking control. Despite arguments to the contrary by the tobacco industry, a randomized controlled trial, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine, has provided evidence that pictorial warnings were more effective for both sexes and across races, ethnicities and socioeconomic levels. See the linked Science Times article for more information.
Questions and answers on the new study linking cell phones and cancer in rats
A preliminary study from the National Institute’s of Health (NIH) National Toxicology Program (NTP), released on May 27, 2016
, found that radiation from cellphones appears to have increased the risks that male rats developed tumors in their brains and hearts. But there are many caveats and some experts are debunking the study. See the linked New York Times article and video for further information.