Labeling substances as poisonous has a checkered history. By 1800, many known poisons were available for retail salewhich meant that organizations like the American Medical Association wanted the bottles to be clearly labeled.
Skull and crossbones symbols appeared on some, but not all, of these bottles; warning labels did not become consistent until 1960. Hazardous substances, especially those to which children have easy access, are now subject to various packaging and labeling regulations.
But not all toxic substances come in a bottle. While claims of “toxic” food products not always supported by science, some substances found in everyday foods or ingredients can be harmful or even deadly. Here are four common toxins found in your fridge or pantry that have serious poisonous potential—especially when consumed in large quantities—and when to avoid them.
The seeds and mace of the nutmeg plant are known to contain myristicin. (Credit: Embong Salampessy/Shutterstock)
Myristicin is a chemical compound that can cause hallucinations, delirium, and feelings of euphoria. In large amounts, it can cause neurological damage and be fatal. Myristicin is found in black pepper, carrots, celery, dill and parsnips. Nutmeg also has, as one study says, “volatile oils”, which contain myristicin.
The first documented case for someone buzzing on nutmeg comes from 1576 when an Englishwoman took 10-12 nutmeg with the intention of getting high. Nutmeg has long been a substitute for other drugs, and there is also a documented history of users experiencing brain damage or death.
Fortunately, nutmeg abuse is not common. Poison control for the state of Texas, for example, reported only 17 calls for nutmeg poisoning between 1998 and 2008. About 65 percent of those calls were due to intentional ingestion, and most of those users were teenagers.
Five grams nutmeg containing one to two milligrams of myristicin content is the minimum dose required to induce hallucinations. However, Nutmeg should not be a contender for the next TikTok challenge. People under the influence report an unhappy experience. Instead of euphoria and hallucinations, people describe a feeling of intense anxiety. They can even experience feelings of fear and horrible hallucinations that make “Pink Elephants on Parade” from Dumbo it looks like a dream about a mild fever.
Another reason to avoid overdose – there is no clinical data to help clinicians provide treatment. They can only deal with symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, which can last an agonizing 72 hours.
For some people, mangoes need a warning label. The skin of the mango, as well as the leaves and bark of the tree, contain urushiol, a toxin that can cause contact dermatitis. Urushiol is also found in poison oak and poison ivy.
In one case study, a patient presented to the emergency department after touching and eating a mango two days earlier. The patient had a history of irritation from poison ivy, which helped doctors identify urushiola as the culprit. The man had an intense rash on “all extremities”, with only his palms, soles and lips spared. Treatment was with antihistamines and steroids and he recovered in a few days.
The urushiol in mango can also cause an allergic reaction when consumed. Depending on a person’s sensitivity, a bite can cause anaphylaxis or pulmonary edema. Urushiol is also found in raw cashewtherefore these nuts are steamed before sale.
Lectins are a defense mechanism for plants because they are very difficult for humans to digest. They are found in a variety of foods, including beans, carrots, cherries, corn, garlic, lentils, peanuts, peas, potatoes, and soybeans.
Lectins are proteins which bind to carbohydrates. If foods like beans are soaked and then thoroughly heated, the lectin content is reduced and the food is safe to eat. Red kidney beans are high in lectin and eating a raw handful can cause a painful reaction. People have reported an experience nausea, gas, bloating, vomiting and diarrhea.
In the long term, continuous lectin ingestion can cause serious problems. The lectin interferes with the absorption of nutrients and also disrupts the necessary bacteria in the digestive tract. In extreme cases, the lectin can cause organ damage.
(Credit: Ivashchenko Roman/Shutterstock)
Cyanogenic glycosides are the plants’ way of protecting themselves from predators there as well are more than 2,600 species of plants that contain cyanide, a deadly poison.
Cyanide is found in many foods stored in pantries and refrigerators, including almonds, apple seeds, apricot pits, bamboo shoots, cherry pits, and lima beans. However, all of these products have low amounts of cyanide, and one would have to intentionally eat significant amounts to feel the effects. With apples, one must remove 200 seeds from the core and then swallow them, which is equivalent to eating 40 seeds at once.
Apple juice is also safe to drink. A study tested the cyanide content of more than a dozen brands of apple juice and found that the levels were so low that they did not pose a health hazard. However, the study authors recommend that people who press apples to make juice remove the seeds just to be safe.