Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Licorice and Green Tea Save Me a Call to the Poison Control Center

Yesterday morning I took pity on my dog's relentless scratching and dosed her up with imidacloprid, the topical anti-flea medication known as Advantage. It comes as a liquid in a little vial that you put on the skin up and down the dog's spine.

You're supposed to let it dry before touching the dog again. Not only did I violate that rule, somehow I also got the stuff in my mouth just before we left the house for the morning walk. As we walked, I could feel a dry sensation in my mouth spreading from the point of contact with the insecticide. Oh God, I'm going to die, I thought, before more rational thoughts took hold - chemicals are unavoidable in the modern world, you're going to die eventually anyway - and I decided to head home and call the poison control center, as the package suggests if you get the stuff on your hands or in your mouth.

As I got closer to home, I tried to think about what I could use from Chinese medicine. Finally I thought of licorice root - 甘草 Gan Cao, the "sweet herb" used in almost every Chinese medicine formula for its gentle harmonizing properties. Gan Cao affects all twelve major meridians of the body and has a detoxifying effect when used with herbs that have extremely drastic actions.

Glycyrrhizin, generally considered to be one of the main constituents of Gan Cao, has a marked detoxifying effect to treat poisoning, including but not limited to drug poisoning (chloral hydrate, urethane, cocaine, picrotoxin, caffeine, pilocarpine, nicotine, barbituates, mercury and lead), food poisoning (tetrodotoxin, snake and mushroom), and others (enterotoxin, herbicides and pesticides). On the other hand, Gan Cao is not effective in treating poisoning caused by atropine, morphine, and sulfonmethane. It may increase the toxicity of ephedrine. The exact mechanism of this action is unclear, but is thought to be related to its regulatory effect on the endocrine or hepatic systems. Oral ingestion of Gan Cao reduces the absorption of toxins via direct binding, an effect similar to that of activated charcoal. Gan Cao significantly reduces the toxicity of Fu Zi (Radix Aconiti Lateralis Praeparata) when the two herbs are decocted together. (Zhong Yao Tong Bao Journal of Chinese Herbology, 1985; 11(10):55)

-Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, p. 869

I also decided to use green tea. Green tea is another gentle herb with detoxifying actions. I boiled a small handful of Gan Cao for about ten minutes and used the liquid to make tea. I felt immediate relief from the dry mouth, but I skipped breakfast anyway.

If you've accidentally ingested something suspicious, call a poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

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