Pyrrolizidine alkaloids in food: a spectrum of potential health consequences.

Contamination of grain with 1,2-dehydropyrrolizidine ester alkaloids (dehydroPAs) and their N-oxides is responsible for large incidents of acute and subacute food poisoning, with high morbidity and mortality, in Africa and in central and south Asia. Herbal medicines and teas containing dehydroPAs have also caused fatalities in both developed and developing countries. There is now increasing recognition that some staple and widely consumed foods are sometimes contaminated by dehydroPAs and their N-oxides at levels that, while insufficient to cause acute poisoning, greatly exceed maximum tolerable daily intakes and/or maximum levels determined by a number of independent risk assessment authorities. This suggests that there may have been cases of disease in the past not recognised as resulting from dietary exposure to dehydroPAs. A review of the literature shows that there are a number of reports of liver disease where either exposure to dehydroPAs was suspected but no source was identified or a dehydroPA-aetiology was not considered but the symptoms and pathology suggests their involvement. DehydroPAs also cause progressive, chronic diseases such as cancer and pulmonary arterial hypertension but proof of their involvement in human cases of these chronic diseases, including sources of exposure to dehydroPAs, has generally been lacking. Growing recognition of hazardous levels of dehydroPAs in a range of common foods suggests that physicians and clinicians need to be alert to the possibility that these contaminants may, in some cases, be a possible cause of chronic diseases such as cirrhosis, pulmonary hypertension and cancer in humans.
AuthorsJ A Edgar, S M Colegate, M Boppré, R J Molyneux
JournalFood additives & contaminants. Part A, Chemistry, analysis, control, exposure & risk assessment (Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess) Vol. 28 Issue 3 Pg. 308-24 (Mar 2011) ISSN: 1944-0057 [Electronic] England
PMID21360376 (Publication Type: Journal Article, Review)
Chemical References
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids
  • Africa (epidemiology)
  • Animals
  • Asia (epidemiology)
  • Beverages
  • Biotransformation
  • Chronic Disease
  • Drug-Induced Liver Injury (epidemiology, etiology)
  • Edible Grain (chemistry)
  • Familial Primary Pulmonary Hypertension
  • Food Contamination (analysis, prevention & control)
  • Foodborne Diseases (epidemiology)
  • Herbal Medicine
  • Honey (analysis)
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary (chemically induced)
  • Maximum Allowable Concentration
  • Meat (analysis)
  • Milk (chemistry)
  • Neoplasms (chemically induced)
  • Pollen (chemistry)
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids (administration & dosage, analysis, poisoning)

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