Doctors in Victoria were stumped recently when a patient came to see them with 25 times the normal amount of cyanide in his blood.
The patient, a 67-year-old man, had been self-medicating with over-the-counter alternative health supplements. And — surprise, surprise — therein lay the problem.
Coming in for a routine surgery, the man’s pre-surgery checkup revealed that his blood oxygen levels were abnormally low. Subsequent blood tests revealed the high levels of cyanide he’d brought on through his use of supplements.
So what was this guy taking? After all, it’s not like you can just walk into your local naturopath and buy a cyanide capsule. Although if you could, they would probably see their sales go up overnight.
No, he wasn’t taking cyanide directly, even in small doses. Instead, he was dosing himself with harmless-sounding fruit kernel supplements.
But that sounds natural, right? And natural must be good, right? No, not necessarily. Not at all, in many cases. That’s the big problem with the belief that everything natural is good: natural stuff can kill you in some cases.
Luckily that didn’t happen here. But the supplement the man was taking included apricot kernels, which contain cyanide (who knew?!). He was taking them every day for five years, without the advice of a doctor.
The end result? His abnormally low blood oxygen, and his bloodstream with 25 times the normal levels of cyanide.
This is a common enough problem that doctors see all the time with supplements.
For example, many people take Echinacea supplements when dealing with a common cold or flu, usually doing so without a doctor’s guidance, confident that Echinacea must be harmless because it is “natural.”
But did you know that Echinacea can damage your liver?
That’s not to say that natural alternative medicines are necessarily bad for you. It also doesn’t mean they don’t work. Quite the opposite, really: a lot of these herbal supplements contain pharmacologically active compounds, which is why they’re used as medicine in the first place.
And that means they’re real drugs, with real effects — both good and bad. But for some reason, people often feel confident in treating themselves with these substances, when they wouldn’t dream of using prescription medicines without a doctor’s supervision.
The upshot of all this: if you’re going to be using a bunch of herbal supplements, please talk to a medical professional about it.
As for the man in the story: he is reportedly doing fine. Amazingly, after being informed of the consequences of his supplement regime, the man said he will continue with them all the same.
I guess he must really like apricots. Just don’t say they didn’t warn you, m8.