Archive for September, 2017

Contaminated Tea Threatens Lives

Posted in Poisons on September 7, 2017 by Dr. Steven Farmer

You may have read the about the incident back in February of 2017, where a customer purchased a deadly herbal tea blend from the Sun Wing Wo Trading Company in San Francisco.  Her resultant death was due to an ingredient called aconite that didn’t belong.  Also known as Wolf’s Bane, Monk’s Hood, or Chuan Wu in Traditional Chinese Herb shops, it has uses as a topical numbing agent, treatment for bruises or, if prepared properly, as an oral preparation for treating pain.

It cannot be ingested in its raw, unprepared form because it contains toxic alkaloids which directly affect the heart and Central Nervous System (CNS).  These include aconitine, mesaconitine, and hypaconitine (among other Aconitum alkaloids). A large dose causes near instantaneous death.

Aconite’s Mechanism

The human body is basically an electrical system.  All of its instructions, even down to the contraction or relaxation of microscopic capillaries, rely on electrical signals.  Aconite’s treacherous little alkaloids interfere with the transmission of almost all electrical signals, flipping the sodium channel wide open and locking it in that position.

When your heart beats, sodium flows to polarize the channel and send a “beat now” signal.  The channel depolarizes and the signal stops.  However, when Aconitine and Mesaconitine lock the signal open it takes much longer to depolarize, so the next signal is delayed, resulting in a slow heart beat (bradycardia).  That is but one example; there are so many other complications possible, listing them would be pointless.

In the same way it interferes with the transmission of all nerve signals, from the CNS to the tips of your toes.  This results in limb weakness, confusion, incontinence, and eventually, death.  To our bodies, aconite-poisoning is very much like throwing a handful of metal filings in a fuse box—a bad idea at any time.

Aconite has no business being in tea.  It is used very seldom by anyone, outside of traditional Chinese medicine.  The very best advice is to avoid Aconite altogether because we have dozens of other products that perform exactly the same job, in a safe manner, without any risk of death.

The Takeaway

If you are a dedicated herbalist aficionado, make sure you are doing business with reputable companies.  Herbalists helped us evolve and grow as a species in the early days.  They were not simply exploiting a new fad in hopes of profit.  They committed their lives—and those of their community—to a profound understanding of the capabilities (and dangers) of the foliage and greenery around them.