I read a blog post a while back about nutmeg and how it can actually make you sick. It was a first person account of nutmeg poisoning. Here is a link to the post if you want to read it. I can’t remember when I read this but I have thought about it off and on since that time. I most recently thought about it when I posted my oatmeal recipe because I had nutmeg in the ingredient list. That started me thinking about how often nutmeg is used in holiday recipes which made me realize that now is probably a good time for a post about nutmeg and what can happen if you use too much.
I started looking up articles on PubMed.gov to understand if there really are toxic effects from too much nutmeg. Turns out there are. The other thing I learned is that teenagers already know this. A lot of the pubmed articles focus on “nutmeg intoxication”. Yup, teenagers and “marijuana users who seek alternative substances” (1) use or try to use nutmeg to get high. From what I’ve read, I guess it kind of works. Typically, it also has some bad side effects. Another article entitle, Acute intoxication with nutmeg used as a recreational purpose – a case report, suggests that recreational poisonings which affect the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and nervous system may actually be under reported (2).
So what is it about nutmeg? “Nutmeg contains myristicin, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor and psychoactive substance. Myristicin poisoning can induce convulsions, palpatations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalized body pain (3).” There is also some noise on the internet about death due to nutmeg poisoning. I didn’t find much in PubMed.gov about nutmeg induced deaths but Wikipedia mentions that fatalities are rare and sites two sources that point toward the death of an 8 year old (4) and a 55 year old (5).
Just in case this post is going off the rails and the above information is making nutmeg sound interesting instead of unpleasant I want to go into a little more detail about the side effects of nutmeg toxicity. First, you have to ingest a lot of nutmeg, like a tablespoon to a whole container, yuck. If you actually were to manage to do this, again yuck, the effects don’t occur immediately. It can take hours to feel anything and then can last days – what if you don’t like the way you feel? I repeat, days. Dr. Weil, M.D. describes the after effects as “miserable: a heavy hangover and nasty gastrointestinal upset including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, your heart can race uncomfortably (6).” Purposefully over dosing on nutmeg is a bad idea. Got it, good.
Alrighty, no one is purposefully going to overdose on nutmeg, great. I’m guessing the question now is, how much is too much? The post that I linked to at the beginning of this was about shaking too much nutmeg into oatmeal and just figuring it would taste a little nasty but oh well. I think we’ve all been there, you think the little perforated plastic top is on the spice jar and then – OH NO! With nutmeg this can be a big problem, you might need to start over.
Here’s a video on NutritionFacts.org that states 2-3 tsp. of nutmeg is a toxic dose. Basically, read your recipes and follow the amounts suggested for nutmeg. Also, make sure the little perforated shaker top is on the ground nutmeg before you decide to put a dash on your eggnog.
Eat Well, Feel Good, Have Fun – and BE MERRY!
1. McKenna, A., & Nordt SP, J. R. (2004, August 11). Acute nutmeg poisoning. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15249817
2. Sein Anand, J., Barwina, M., & Waldman, W. (n.d.). [Acute intoxication with nutmeg used as a recreational purpose–a c… – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24466724
3. Nutmeg – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2014, December 2). Retrieved December 3, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutmeg
4. Weil, Andrew (1966). “The Use of Nutmeg as a Psychotropic Agent”. Bulletin on Narcotics (UNODC) 1966 (4): 15–23.
5. Stein, U.; Greyer, H.; Hentschel, H. (2001). “Nutmeg (myristicin) poisoning–report on a fatal case and a series of cases recorded by a poison information centre”. Forensic Science International 118 (1): 87–90. doi:10.1016/S0379-0738(00)00369-8. PMID 11343860
6. Weil, M.D., A. (2011, February 7). Getting High on Nutmeg? – Dr. Weil. Retrieved from http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400873/Getting-High-on-Nutmeg.html
Amy White MS HNC
I am a holistic nutrition counselor and believe real food is the true path to wellness. If you are interested in learning more about me and how I can help you, please see my story.
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