Among a typically mad summer of academic activities, I am nervously trying to finish a chapter on naturally-occurring toxins for a drug metabolism book. Indeed, this entire chapter will be a science-based rebuttal to the timeworn but misled statement, “Natural is safe.”
So far, I’ve focused on naturally-occurring toxins that are metabolically activated by the liver such as the aflatoxins from Aspergillus spp. and pyrrolizidine alkaloids from a litany of herbal medicines such as comfrey and teas such as Jamaican bush tea made from Senecio. These two classes of compounds are acutely toxic to the liver because they are metabolized to highly-reactive nucleophiles. With long-term exposure, both classes are liver carcinogens.
I’ve also talked a bit about α-amanitin, the RNA polymerase II poision from Amanita phalloides and other Amanita species. Here, I mentioned the treatment of such poisoning with extracts of milk thistle in an intravenous form available in Europe. This 2009 case in California is a great example.
But let me ask you: what naturally-occurring toxins would you like to know about?
They don’t necessarily have to be metabolically activated. Some interesting aspects about their absorption, distribution, or excretion are a plus. For example, I feel compelled to cover E. coli toxins, particularly those due to the recent O104:H4 outbreak, as most recently discussed by Superbug writer, Maryn McKenna. But I want to be sure that I’m not missing anything.
The crowdsourced suggestions of the hivemind are greatly appreciated below.
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