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Can Too Much Nutmeg Be Toxic?

The spice nutmeg appears to have a relatively narrow margin of safety.

In my research on cinnamon I ran across a peculiar paper entitled “Christmas Gingerbread and Christmas Cheer: Review of the Potential Role of Mood Elevating Amphetamine-like Compounds.” The author suggested that certain natural constituents of spices such as nutmeg may form amphetamine compounds within the body “sufficient to elevate the mood and help provide some added Christmas cheer” during the holiday season.

This hypothetical risk was raised as far back as the ’60s in the New England Journal of Medicine in an article called “Nutmeg Intoxication.” It pondered whether the age-old custom of adding nutmeg to eggnog arose from the psychopharmacological effects described in cases of nutmeg intoxication. Such cases evidently go back to the 1500s, when it was used as an abortifacient to induce a miscarriage and in the 1960s as a psychotropic drug.

Mental health professionals from the ’60s concluded that while nutmeg “is much cheaper for use and probably less dangerous than the habit-forming heroin, it must be stated that it is not free from danger and may cause death.”

The toxic dose of nutmeg is two to three teaspoons.

I assumed no one would ever come close to that amount unintentionally until I saw report in which a couple ate some pasta, collapsed, and were subsequently hospitalized. It was a big mystery until “On close questioning, the husband revealed that he had accidentally added one third of a 30g spice jar of nutmeg to the meal whilst cooking it.” That’s about 4 teaspoons–I don’t know how they could have eaten it! I imagine the poor wife just trying to be polite.

There are also potentially toxic compounds in certain types of cinnamon. See the previous video Update on Cinnamon for Blood Sugar Control.

We can also overdo other healthful plant foods if we consume too much of the yellow curry spice turmeric, drink too much tea, or eat too much soytoo much seaweedtoo many broccoli sprouts, and even too many raw cruciferous vegetables.

The final video in this three part series on the safety of spices is The Safety of Tarragon.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos here and watch my full 2012-2013 annual year-in-review presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Image credit: Frank C. Müller / Wikimedia Commons

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

57 comments

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4:58PM PST on Dec 18, 2014

Thanks. Probably shouldn't eat any, sure its not worth it

12:23PM PDT on Jun 15, 2013

Thanks for the link to the turmeric info, too -- as I tend to like to add that to my roasted root vegetables. Fortunately, we're well under 1 tsp each when we divvy it up.

9:02AM PDT on Jun 15, 2013

Sigh

7:38AM PDT on Jun 10, 2013

Thanks for article. We just must be careful in using this spice.

10:10PM PDT on Jun 8, 2013

thanks

6:27AM PDT on Jun 8, 2013

Thank you Dr, Michael Greger, for Sharing this!

8:31AM PDT on Jun 7, 2013

Thank you

4:57AM PDT on Jun 7, 2013

Interesting

1:18AM PDT on Jun 7, 2013

I have heard before that you must go easy on the nutmeg as it can be toxic in too large an amount. Good information here, thanks.

11:51PM PDT on Jun 6, 2013

this was one of the more interesting and useful articles I've read in a long while. Thanks - makes one realize that moderation is the way to go. And just because something is "natural" doesn't mean it is safe in any quantity. A little common sense goes a long way, just like nutmeg.

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