An Epidemic Disease!
a disease, which means swelling of the body. This epidemic disease created a
havoc in Delhi and some parts of North India in 1998 during the months of
August and September. Main symptoms of 'Dropsy' are: (i) swelling of the whole
body especially legs (ii) gastrointestinal symptoms like vomitting, diarrhoea,
loss of appetite (iii) tingling sensation in the skin (iv) tenderness in the
calf muscles (v) increased intra-occular (inside the eye) pressure which is
known as glaucoma.
that causes these symptoms comes from a plant, Argemone mexicana which
belongs to family Papaveraceae. Vernacular name of this plant is 'Satyanashi'.
Argemone plant originally belongs to America. In India, it occurs as a
local weed in cold seasons. It grows wild all over the country in wastelands,
along roadsides and river sides. The name Argemone comes from the greek word
argema, meaning a cataract in the eye. The juice of this plant was once very
popular in the treatment of cataract but in fact it is dangerous to the eye.
The name mexicana refers to its native place. Mexico.
are blackish brown, round and netted and resemble mustard seeds (Brassica
nigra), although the seeds of Argemoneto have spiny edges, the
mustard seeds are smooth surfaced. Mustard seeds are heavier and they drown in
saline water while those of Argemone will keep floating. Seeds of
Argemone yield 22-36% of pale yellow, nauseous, bitter, non-edible oil
which is known as Katkar oil or Argemone oil. The oil is rich in two
alkaloids, Sanguinarine and Dihydrosanguinarine. These two alkaloids are mainly
responsible for the poisonous symptoms. If the Katkar oil is heated to 240°C
for 15 min it loses its toxic properties.
is cheaper than mustard oil and it is used to adulterate mustard oil. It is
claimed that mustard and Argemone plants grow together, and ripen at the same
time, since their mixing becomes unavoidable. But this is not true. Argemone
grows in the fallow fields and mustard in the cultivated fields. The canopy
of the mustard-plant does not let anything grow under it. An important fact is
that mustard ripens in March and Argemone in May. So, there is no question of
mixing up of seed, until and unless it is intentional.
caused by Katkar oil is "Epidemic Dropsy". As the name indicates the disease
occurs in epidemic form. The reason is that when adulterated oil comes in the
market, several people consume it and fall ill at the same time. 'Dropsy'
symptom of Argemone oil is marked swelling over the legs. The cause of
the swelling is, the increased porosity of the blood vessels, which is caused
by the alkaloid Sanguinarine. Because of the increased porosity, water from the
blood vessels comes to lie in the tissues. This is mainly responsible for the
swelling. Sometimes so-much water oozes out of the blood that it
accumulates in the cavities around the heart and lungs. Liver enlargement takes
place. Due to the dilution of blood vessels bluish mottling develop on the
skin. Another characteristic symptom is the development of small, fleshy, dark
red warty growths in the mucous membrane of cheeks, gums, tongue and nose. Due
to the high intra-occular tension retinal haemorrhages also occur. Higher
concentration of adulteration is fatal. Katkar oil is poisonous to animals too,
but they do not show classical symptoms of epidemic dropsy.
Dr. M.R. Suseela is a Scientist in Algal Taxonomy at National Botanical
Research Institute, Lucknow, India.