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How Do Mushrooms Cause Injury?

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

This article originally appeared on page 22 in the August 21-22, 2004 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Wellness, Doctor's Corner.

Mushrooms are fungi without chlorophyll and are an essential component of the ecosystem. Collectively, they provide us with many beneficial substances such as penicillin and cancer drugs, and some controversial ones such as hallucinogens. There are thousands of different mushroom species. Less than one percent contain enough amanitin or phalloidin toxins to produce poisoning. Amanitatoxins are the most toxic. They bind to and destroy the nuclei of liver and kidney cells. Phalloidin toxins act more on the outer cell membranes making them leaky and prone to destruction.

In North America, most mushroom poisoning is attributed to children accidentally ingesting mushrooms. Mushrooms are a type of fungus which can grow very quickly under the right cool, shady and damp conditions. In Europe, mushroom species are a delicacy used in numerous culinary dishes. Adults who accidentally ingest poisonous mushrooms are a scenario more common to Europe.

Picking wild mushrooms should be left for knowledgeable persons who are experienced. Generally, the more poisonous species like the "Death Cap" and "Destroying Angel" tend to grow on forest floors. They can have scales on their caps, and an annular ring on the stem just below the cap. The base is usually bulbous. Most have two swellings on the stalk. If your child does ingest a mushroom accidentally, attempt to retrieve a similar looking one and take it with you to the emergency room.

It takes a few hours for the first signs of poisoning to appear. This time delay allows a window of opportunity for quick treatment prior to symptom onset if recognized. The first signs of poisoning are due to actions exerted on the muscarinic type of acetylcholine receptors and include violent abdominal pains, cramps and vomiting. Soon afterward bloody diarrhea begins. The resulting dehydration produces weakness and thirst. The situation can become fatal very quickly. With proper treatment, most people can survive without serious consequences. Mushrooms can be a wonderful delicacy or an aid to many health problems.

Related resources:

CPCS: Mushrooms from California Poison Control System (CPCS) - Include: How ARE mushrooms identified? What symptoms do poisonous mushrooms cause? But aren't there antidotes to treat mushroom poisoning?
Mushroom toxins from United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Bad Bug Book. Mushroom Poisoning, Toadstool Poisoning. Types of poisons.
Poisonous Mushrooms from Botany Department, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Mushroom Facts and Warning. When picking wild mushrooms, beware of poisonous ones, by Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, About.com.
Edible and Poisonous Fungi from Northern Ireland Fungus Group. Includes: How to avoid mushroom poisoning.
Poisonous Mushrooms and their Edible Look-Alikes (Chart) from Cape Cod Mushroom.
Wild Food! from "Wildman" Steve Brill.
MykoWeb: Mushrooms, Fungi, Mycology by Michael Wood.
Mycophagy: Best Edible Mushrooms by Ursula Hoffmann and others at the Northeast Mycological Federation (NEMF).
Wild Mushrooms from Plant Pathology, Ohio State University Extension. Includes: Which Mushrooms Are Safe to Eat? Edible vs. Poisonous - True or False.
Poisonous Mushrooms in Northeastern North America (Photos).
Line drawings & photos: Poisonous mushrooms and harmless look-alikes.
Caution: Do Not Confuse - Images of edibles and poisonous look-alikes.

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