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Eur J Pediatr. 1995 Feb;154(2):112-6.

Reversible hepatic veno-occlusive disease in an infant after consumption of pyrrolizidine-containing herbal tea.

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  • 1Department of Paediatrics, University of Innsbruck, Austria.


Veno-occlusive disease was diagnosed in an 18-month-old boy who had regularly consumed a herbal tea mixture since the 3rd month of life. The boy developed portal hypertension with severe ascites. Histology of the liver showed centrilobular sinusoidal congestion with perivenular bleeding and parenchymal necrosis without cirrhosis. The tea contained peppermint and what the mother thought was coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). The parents believed the tea aided the healthy development of their child. Pharmacological analysis of the tea compounds revealed high amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Seneciphylline and the corresponding N-oxide were identified as the major components by thin-layer chromatography, mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy. We calculated that the child had consumed at least 60 micrograms/kg body weight per day of the toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloid mixture over 15 months. Macroscopic and microscopic analysis of the leaf material indicated that Adenostyles alliariae (Alpendost) had been erroneously gathered by the parents in place of coltsfoot. The two plants can easily be confused especially after the flowering period. The child was given conservative treatment only and recovered completely within 2 months.


In all cases of veno-occlusive disease pyrrolizidine alkaloids ingestion should be excluded. The identity of collected plant material should be verified by pharmaceutically trained experts and information of composition, dosage and mode of administration should be included in guidelines for herbal preparations.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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