Floral hazards: 4 pretty flowers that can cause heart attacks

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The popular flowering plant foxglove can cause heart attacks.

NEW YORK, Oct 17, (Agencies): The common foxglove, scientifically known as Digitalis purpurea, is a striking beauty that often goes by sinister monikers like “dead man’s bells” and “witches’ gloves.” This enchanting plant, originally hailing from Europe and North Africa, has found its way into gardens across the United States, adding a touch of charm with its flowers in hues of pink, purple, white, and yellow.

The old English adage that claims foxglove can “raise the dead and kill the living” holds a kernel of truth. The paradoxical nature of this botanical wonder resides in its leaves and flowers, which contain a compound known as digoxin, a potent cardiac glycoside affecting the heart. According to Dr. Zhen Wang, an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, foxgloves house these potent compounds, aptly named cardiac glycosides for their influence on the heart muscle, with “glycosides” signifying the presence of sugar molecules that assist in their absorption by the body.

Ingesting digoxin triggers immediate turmoil within the heart, causing it to beat excessively hard and fast, a condition known as ventricular fibrillation. This rapid quivering of the heart muscles can lead to cardiac arrest and, tragically, death. However, despite its lethal potential, digoxin is also a vital heart medication. It is clinically prescribed for heart failure when other treatments prove ineffective. When a patient’s heart is too weak to pump effectively, digoxin can increase the heart’s pumping force. Although overdosing on digoxin has serious side effects, in specific cases, the benefits of this toxin can outweigh the risks and potentially save lives.

The plant kingdom harbors an assortment of flora with sinister effects on human and animal health. Let’s take a look at a few more:

  1. Monkshood: Also known as “devil’s helmet,” Monkshood (Aconitum napellus) boasts towering flowering spikes that bloom in the summer. However, every part of this plant, particularly the roots, is highly toxic. Ingesting it can result in stomach pain and dizziness, and its poisonous effects extend to the heart, potentially proving fatal. Notably, extracts from Aconitum plants have historically been used to poison arrows and, in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, to tip harpoons used in whale hunting.
  2. Poison Hemlock: Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), a distant relative of the carrot, has been spreading rapidly throughout the United States and Europe. Even minimal contact with this lavender-and-white weed, which resembles Queen Anne’s lace, can have adverse effects. In one case, an Ohio man had to be placed on a ventilator and induced into a coma after inhaling tiny particles of poison hemlock while clearing brush.
  3. Deadly Nightshade: True to its name, Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna) possesses purple-green, bell-shaped flowers, oval leaves, and berries that mature from green to black. Every part of this plant is toxic, but the berries are particularly poisonous. They contain alkaloids, including atropine, which wreaks havoc on the nervous system, leading to severe symptoms like sweating, vomiting, breathing difficulties, confusion, hallucinations, and potentially coma and death. Strikingly, the deadly nightshade’s pupil-widening effect was used as a beauty aid in ancient Greece, with an extract of belladonna, meaning “beautiful woman,” used to make eye drops that women applied to dilate their pupils.

In the world of flora, beauty, and danger can often exist side by side. These plants serve as a potent reminder of nature’s intricacies, where life and death are entwined in the tapestry of existence.

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