This section is from the book "Practical Dietetics With Special Reference To Diet In Disease", by William Gilman Thompson. Also available from Amazon: Practical Dietetics with Special Reference to Diet in Disease.
Flesh may become poisonous from the animal having fed upon some noxious substance shortly before it was killed. The flesh of pigs fed on garbage may cause diarrhoea (Parkes). The flavour and digestibility of game, and even fish, varies much with the season of the year and the consequent nature of the food which the animal has had. Oysters are not wholesome food from May to September, or in "the months without an R." Cow's milk becomes unhealthful for infants when the animal eats improper food, and rare instances have been reported of illness of adults caused by eating meat poisoned during the animal's life, as in the case of a sick ox to which a large dose of tartar emetic was given. The animal died, and the meat contained enough of the substance to severely poison those who ate it.
Game sometimes disagrees on account of the nature of the food upon which the animal has previously been living. This is said to be particularly true of the grouse in various parts of the country at some seasons of the year. The laurel buds act in this manner. Hares fed upon rhododendron are poisonous (Letheby).
A curious instance of poisoning from eating turkey meat was reported by Seelye, of Amherst, Mass. Several young women at a boarding school showed symptoms of atropine poisoning after eating a bird which had fed upon the deadly nightshade berries.
Old unripe grain and mouldy flour develop poisons from decomposition of their gluten.
The fungus known as ergot, or Claviceps purpurea, grows upon rye, and in Europe the careless admixture of this substance with grain in the preparation of flour has several times resulted in violent symptoms of poisoning. Collectively the symptoms are described as "ergotism," and they are commonly divided into two varieties, the gangrenous and the convulsive. The ergot-containing flour or meal must have been eaten for a considerable time, as a rule, in order to develop the symptoms.
Ergot is sometimes employed too freely in medicine. In appropriate cases it may be given in considerable quantity for a brief period without exciting toxic symptoms. When, however, its use is prolonged beyond a few days, serious poisoning results.
In the gangrenous form of ergotism the early symptoms are referable to local vasomotor disturbances, affecting principally the extremities. These symptoms are anaesthesia, numbness, prickling pain, and spasmodic twitching of the muscles, with an impeded blood flow due to vasoconstriction. In the convulsive variety the nervous system is profoundly disturbed. After a period of indefinite symptoms, such as lassitude, headache, and prickling sensations, spasms of the muscles with contractures begin. The spasms may be intermittent, or may assume a tetanic character, lasting sometimes through many days; the arms are strongly flexed and the legs and toes are extended. Spasmodic rigidity of the muscles may give place to violent convulsions, which become general and fatal. There is sometimes slight fever, and in the chronic cases melancholia or dementia results. Delirium also is sometimes present. In cases reported by Siemens and Tuzzek the posterior columns of the spinal cord were found sclerosed.
A grain called the chick-pea vetch is sometimes used for the adulteration of flour from various cereals. Several varieties are used which have a similar effect to ergot in producing a condition of spastic rigidity in the lower extremities. This form of poisoning has been observed in India by James Irving, and by others in Italy and France. It is, however, rare, and but little is known as to the exact nature of the lesions.
Pellagra is a functional disturbance caused by eating fermented unripe maize or Indian corn, made into polenta. It is unknown in this country, but prevails in the south of Europe, in portions of Spain, France, and Italy. The first symptoms noticed are those of dyspepsia with more or less nervousness, insomnia, and debility. These symptoms are followed by an eruption, the pellagral erythema, which develops in the spring. After the eruption has lasted for some time, the skin becomes very dry and extensive desquamation ensues accompanied by burning pains, or, if neglected, the surface may become incrusted with areas of suppuration. With the appearance of the eruption the dyspeptic symptoms are increased, and there may be salivation and severe diarrhoea. The disease lasts in greater or less severity for several months and ends in slow convalescence, or else, in the worst forms, the nervous system is involved and emaciation, headache, convulsions, delirium, and paralysis of the legs may appear. The peasants who eat this spoiled food sometimes have severe attacks in successive years, and melancholia and suicidal mania have been observed among them.
There are no definite lesions other than those of malnutrition, such as fatty degeneration of various organs (Arnold).
The disease is not contagious, and it is said to be preventable by adding salt to the cornmeal; but salt is a Government monopoly in Italy. The peasants resist the tax upon it, and, through prejudice as much as through ignorance and poverty, they fail to make use of it.