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Toxins (Basel). 2014 Sep 2;6(9):2605-11. doi: 10.3390/toxins6092605.

Aconitum alkaloid poisoning related to the culinary uses of aconite roots.

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Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Drug and Poisons Information Bureau, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong, China.


Aconite roots (roots or root tubers of the Aconitum species) are eaten as root vegetables and used to prepare herbal soups and meals, mainly for their purported health benefits. Aconite roots contain aconitine and other Aconitum alkaloids, which are well known cardiotoxins and neurotoxins. To better understand why Aconitum alkaloid poisoning related to the culinary uses of aconite roots can occur and characterize the risks posed by these "food supplements", relevant published reports were reviewed. From 1995 to 2013, there were eight reports of aconite poisoning after consumption of these herbal soups and meals, including two reports of large clusters of cases (n = 19-45) and two reports of cases (n = 15-156) managed by two hospitals over a period of 4.5 to 5 years. The herbal formulae used did not adhere to the suggested guidelines, with regarding to the doses (50-500 g instead of 3-30 g per person) and types (raw instead of processed) of aconite roots used. The quantities of Aconitum alkaloids involved were huge, taking into consideration the doses of aconite roots used to prepare herbal soups/meals and the amounts of aconite roots and herbal soups/meals consumed. In a large cluster of cases, despite simmering raw "caowu" (the root tuber of A. kusnezoffii) in pork broth for 24 h, all 19 family members who consumed this soup and boiled "caowu" developed poisoning. Severe or even fatal aconite poisoning can occur after consumption of herbal soups and foods prepared from aconite roots. Even prolonged boiling may not be protective if raw preparations and large quantities of aconite roots are used. The public should be warned of the risk of severe poisoning related to the culinary and traditional medicinal uses of aconite roots.

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