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YOUR LIVER DISEASE COULD BE TOXIC TONKA BEAN, WARFARIN OR CINNAMON POISONING

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

DRIED TONKA BEANS ON KITCHEN CUTTING BOARD

Coumarin is mostly toxic to the liver, which plays a central role in mopping up poisons and clearing them from the body. As the front-line defence, the organ is extraordinarily resilient, able to regenerate from just a quarter of its original size. Just like alcohol, coumarin is thought to be toxic over the long term, with repeated bouts of damage.

“The problem is it’s not like you’re going to realise when you’ve got to the level where you’re eating too much – the effects build up over years,” says Dirk Lachenmeier from the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Laboratory (CVUA) of Karlsruhe, Germany, who has developed a new way of detecting coumarin in foods.

The easy way to find out is obvious; alas, it turns out feeding people toxic chemicals isn’t allowed. Instead, the safe limits in humans are based on studies in animals, from baboons to dogs. To account for an any differences in our biology, the highest amount which hasn’t caused any harm in animals is multiplied by 100.

For most people, the current limit is probably ultra conservative

For an average-sized person, this works out at a measly one quarter of a tonka bean or a quarter of a cinnamon bun per day – though if you remove the safety factor, your allowance shoots up to more like 25 tonka beans or 20 cinnamon buns (5680 calories, a challenge for even the most hardened binge eaters).

For most people, the current limit is probably ultra conservative. Many animals, including rats and dogs, remove coumarin from the body in a completely different way, breaking it down into highly potent chemicals which are toxic in their own right. Instead, we have enzymes which subtly tweak coumarin’s structure to render it safe. But not all people can do this.

Back in the 90s, a woman arrived at Frankfurt University Hospital with severe liver disease. She was promptly diagnosed with “coumarin-induced hepatitis”, but in fact she hadn’t overdosed on tonka beans. She had been taking the drug warfarin.

What was going on?

MORE HERE

Henry Sapiecha