Thursday, July 7, 2011

Exquisite on the outside, Lethal on the inside

Ladies and gentlemen, I am in so much bliss and proud to say, we have moved on from Endocrinology! Heck, that was some kind of brain work.


TOXICOLOGY, on the other hand, is quite interesting to me. I find it strange that I tend to like researching about anything that is potentially harmful, and even lethal to man. I guess I must blame it on too much watching of horror movies. NO, I am not sadistic and definitely not planning on doing it to anyone. But yes, I am paranoid about these things. It is nice to know what to watch out for, eh? Unfortunate for us, it can come from our own backyard.

(I seriously needed a minute to say “THANK YOU, JESUS!”. I can not stress enough how much I am loving my course right now. These things that I am learning! Just needed to put that out.)

Okay, moving on...

So to give you an idea or glimpse on what you should know about Toxicology, here are some facts I researched. Again, RESEARCHED. All references will be cited at the end of this blog entry.

Toxicology is the study of howural or man-made poisons cause undesirable effects in living organisms.

What is Toxicity?
The word “toxicity” describes the degree to which a substance is poisonous or can cause injury. The toxicity depends on a variety of factors: dose, duration and route of exposure shape and structure of the chemical itself, and individual human factors.

What is Toxic? This term relates to poisonous or deadly effects on the body by inhalation (breathing), ingestion (eating), or absorption, or by direct contact with a chemical.

What is a Toxicant? A toxicant is any chemical that can injure or kill humans, animals, or plants; a poison. The term “toxicant” is used when talking about toxic substances that are produced by or are a by-product of human-made activities. For example, dioxin (2,3-7,8-tetrachlorodibenzop-dioxin {TCDD}), produced as a by-product of certain chlorinated chemicals, is a toxicant. On the other hand, arsenic, a toxic metal, may occur as a natural contaminant of groundwater or may contaminate groundwater as a by-product of industrial activities. If the second case is true, such toxic substances are referred to as toxicants, rather than toxins.

What is a Toxin? The term “toxin” usually is used when talking about toxic substances produced naturally. A toxin is any poisonous substance of microbial (bacteria or other tiny plants or animals), vegetable, or synthetic chemical origin that reacts with specific cellular components to kill cells, alter growth or development, or kill the organism.

Classification of Toxic Agents:

Toxic substances are classified into the following:
A. Heavy Metals
B. Solvents and Vapors
C. Radiation and Radioactive Materials
D. Dioxin/Furans
E. Pesticides
F. Plant Toxins
G. Animal Toxins

-- Nature provides us some of the healthiest food and items around, but also the deadliest. Nature has provided us animal and plant toxins. It may be exquisite on the outside, but lethal on the inside.
Since there are so many of them, here's a glimpse of the silent killers out there:

Let us start with PLANT TOXINS.

According to David Zinczenko, editor-in-chief of Men's Health Magazine, “EAT RIGHT RULE: If it didn't grow, walk or swim, eat it rarely”. Well if it did grow, walk or swim, don't eat it JUST yet. The mushroom, calabar bean and castor bean are perfect examples.

We all know mushroom is an ingredient to some of our most popular guilty pleasures – pizzas, pasta dishes and who can forget the creamy mushroom soup? But it can be the recipe for disaster.

Amanita phalloides
As the common name suggests, the fungus is highly toxic, and it is responsible for the majority of fatal mushroom poisonings worldwide. It causes accidental poisoning due to its similarity to edible mushrooms.

DISTRIBUTION: It is native to and widespread in Europe.

FEATURES: Smooth, yellowish-green to olive-brown cap; white gills; white stem; membranous skirt on stem; cup-like structure around the base of the stem.

TOXICITY AND EFFECT: Half a cup is able to kill a human being.
Toxin present: anatoxin and phallatoxin

Anatoxin – halts protein synthesis by inhibiting RNA polymerase II
Phallatoxin – toxic to liver cells

Liver is the primary target. Kidneys are susceptible. Liver and kidney failure are usually the cause of death.

SYMPTOMS: The symptoms are slow to show themselves and often do not appear until 10-16 hours (or even longer) after eating.

The timing given above is approximate, for much depends on the general health of the individual and how much they’ve eaten. For example, if you’ve eaten a large meal of Deathcaps the symptoms could start as early as 6 hours after the meal.

The first symptoms are stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea. These may continue for a day or two, after which there is typically an easing of symptoms and apparent recovery. The "recovery" period may last for 2 or 3 days. Then the terminal phase of 3-5 days starts with the re-occurrence of stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea - accompanied by jaundice. Without effective, early medical intervention, coma and death occur between one and two weeks after eating the mushroom. Death is caused by liver failure, often accompanied by kidney failure.

WHAT TO DO IF INGESTED: Immediately rush to a hospital. Bring a sample of the mushroom, if possible.

For further reading, visit:


It is the seed from the plant, Physostigma venenosum, which resembles any ordinary beans. It was traditionally used in trials to prove innocence. If the accused survived its poisoning, then he is innocent. Currently, it is used for the synthesis of an alkaloid, physostigmine, which is used clinically. But today, it's usage is limited due to its toxicity. It is also called the doomsday plant by the natives of West Africa.

DISTRIBUTION: Native of tropical Africa, West Africa

FEATURES: Large, herbaceous, climbing perennial, with the stem woody at the base, up to 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter; it has a habit like the scarlet runner, and attains a height of about 50 feet (15 m). The flowers, resting on axillary peduncles, are large, about an inch long, grouped in pendulous, fascicled racemes pale-pink or purplish, and beautifully veined. The seed pods, which contain two or three seeds or beans, are 6 or 7 inches (15 or 18 cm) in length; and the beans are about the size of an ordinary horse bean but much thicker, with a deep chocolate-brown color.

TOXICITY AND EFFECT: One seed can kill a human being

Contains physostigmine, which is a reversible cholinesterase inhibitor alkaloid. Death by asphyxiation.


Physostigmine has no action on the unbroken skin. When swallowed it rapidly causes a great increase in the salivary secretion, being one of the most powerful sialogogues known. It has been shown that the action is due to a direct influence on the secreting gland-cells themselves. After a few minutes the salivation is arrested owing to the constricting influence of the drug upon the blood-vessels that supply the glands. There is also felt a sense of constriction in the pharynx, due to the action of the drug on its muscular fibres. A similar stimulation of the non-striped muscle in the alimentary canal results in violent vomiting and purging, if a large dose has been taken. Physostigmine, indeed, stimulates nearly all the non-striped muscles in the body, and this action upon the muscular coats of the arteries, and especially of the arterioles, causes a great rise in blood-pressure shortly after its absorption, which is very rapid. The terminals of the vagus nerve are also stimulated, causing the heart to beat more slowly. Later in its action, the drug depresses the intra-cardiac motor ganglia, causing prolongation of diastole and finally arrest of the heart in dilatation. A large lethal dose kills by this action, but the minimum lethal dose by its combined action on the respiration and the heart. The respiration is at first accelerated by a dose of physostigmine, but is afterwards slowed and ultimately arrested. The initial hastening is due to a stimulation of the vagus terminals in the lung, as it does not occur if these nerves are previously divided. The final arrest is due to paralysis of the respiratory centre in the medulla oblongata, hastened by a quasi-asthmatic contraction of the non-striped muscular tissue in the bronchial tubes, and by a "water-logging" of the lungs due to an increase in the amount of bronchial secretion. It may here be stated that the non-striped muscular tissue of the bladder, the uterus and the spleen is also stimulated, as well as that of the iris. It is only in very large doses that the voluntary muscles are poisoned, there being induced in them a tremor which may simulate ordinary convulsions. The action is a direct one upon the muscular tissue.

WHAT TO DO IF INGESTED: Immediately rush to a hospital.

Antidote is atropine, which may often succeed; and the other measures are those usually employed to stimulate the circulation and respiration.

For further reading, visit:

Castor Beans

The seeds of the plant, Ricinus communis, which is used as an ornament in gardens and cultivated for its oil in its leaves. Also mistaken as an ordinary edible bean, mostly by children. According to the 2007 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, this plant is the most poisonous in the world.

DISTRIBUTION: Native to tropical Africa; Indigenous to the southeastern Mediterranean Basin, Eastern Africa, and India, but is widespread throughout tropical regions

FEATURES: The "stalked leaves consist of usually eight radiating, pointed leaflets with slightly serrated edges and prominent central veins. Many varieties are green, but some are reddish brown."(Cooper and Johnson) The flowers are green and inconspicuous, but pink or red in the pigmented varieties. Many stamens are near the base and branching pistils are near the top of the flower. The soft-spined fruits containing attractively mottled seeds are distinctive features of the plant.

TOXICITY AND EFFECT: 1 mg of ricin can kill a human being
Contains the toxic proteins, ricin and Ricinus communis agglutinin which are cytotoxins and weak hemagglutinins.


The symptoms of human poisoning begin within a few hours of ingestion. The symptoms are abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, sometimes bloody. Within several days there is severe dehydration, a decrease in urine, and a decrease in blood pressure. If death has not occurred in 3-5 days, the victim usually recovers.

WHAT TO DO IF INGESTED: Immediately rush to a hospital.

For further reading, visit:



These toxins can result from venomous or poisonous animal releases.

Venomous vs. Poisonous animals

Venomous animals are usually defined as those that are capable of producing a poison in a highly developed gland or group of cells, and can deliver that toxin through biting or stinging.

Poisonous animals are generally regarded as those whose tissues, either in part or in their whole, are toxic.

-- I personally hate frogs. Other than the fact that they are slimy and grotesquely looking, they ACTUALLY JUMP... in weird height levels. Imagining a frog jumping – boink-boink. (shivers down my spine). Here's an acceptable reason to beware of frogs:


It is from the poison dart frogs of the species Dendrobates and Phyllobates.

Dendrobates auratus
Batrachotoxin (BTX), a member of the batrachotoxin family of steroidal alkaloids, was first isolated from the skin of poison arrow frogs (genus Phyllobates) from the rain forests of western Colombia. By weight, batrachotoxin is one of the most potent natural toxins known because it binds to and irreversibly opens voltage-gated sodium channels; the proper function of these sodium channels is required for the transmission of electrical signals through nerve and muscle cells.

Dendrobates historionicus
Native Indians have used this venom for hundreds of years to poison blow darts. Handling one of these frogs could kill you, if the toxin were able to enter through a cut in your skin.

DISTRIBUTION: Endemic to humid, tropical environments of Central and Latin America (South America)

There are 10 species in the genus Dendrobates. They are all brightly colored: Dendrobates azureus is blue and Dendrobates  auratus, which lives in Costa Rica, is green, with regular black spots. A very small species isDendrobatespumilio–in fact it reaches only 1.8 cm in length and is the smallest member of the family. Its back is brightly orange to red and has tiny darker spots; the limbs are black.
There are several species with very strong poison in the genus Phyllobates.Phyllobates terribilis, which is the most toxic frog from all arrow-frogs, belongs to this genus.

Dendrobates azureus

Around 136 μg is the lethal dose for a person weighing 150 pounds; that is, about two grains of table salt.

The batrachotoxin increases the permeability of the outer membrane of nerve and muscle cells to sodium ions. Thus it stops these channels within muscle fibres from closing normally, allowing a big inflow of sodium ions into the cell. This causes an irreversible electrical depolarisation, blocking the nerve signals that would normally cause the muscle to relax, the muscle remaining contracted. Certain cells within the heart are very sensitive to this, resulting in heart arrythmias, fibrillation and ultimately cardiac failure.

No effective antidotes are known. Frogs do not produce the toxin, but bioaccumulate it – captive frogs are not toxic.

SYMPTOMS: Instant paralysis, numbness, salivation, convulsions, strong muscle contractions

WHAT TO DO IF INGESTED/ INFECTED: No antidote known. Rush to the hospital immediately.

For further reading, visit:



Tetrodotoxin is a potent marine neurotoxin, named after the order of fish from which it is most commonly associated, the Tetraodontiformes (tetras-four and odontos-tooth), or the tetraodon pufferfish. Poisonings usually occur after eating fish caught and prepared by uncertified handlers.

The flesh of the puffer fish (ie, fugu) is considered a delicacy in Japan. It is prepared by chefs specially trained and certified by the government to prepare the flesh free of the toxic liver, gonads, and skin. Despite these precautions, many cases of tetrodotoxin poisoning are reported each year in patients ingesting fugu.

It can also be found on the skin and viscera of porcupine fish, globefish, balloon fish, blowfish, sunfish, toadfish, blue-ringed octopus, and some species of salamanders
Puffer fish

Puffer fish:  The tetraodon puffers are equipped with four large teeth which are nearly fused, forming a beak-like structure used for cracking mollusks and other invertebrates, as well as for scraping corals and general reef grazing.  


1.2 mg of pure toxin is lethal. 10 times more poisonous than potassium cyanide.

Contains the neurotoxin, Tetrodotoxin, which is a heat-stable and water-soluble nonprotein.

It is a heterocyclic, small, organic molecule that acts directly on the electrically active sodium channel in nerve tissue

Tetrodotoxin blocks diffusion of sodium through the sodium channel, thus preventing depolarization and propagation of action potentials in nerve cells.

All of the observed toxicity is secondary to blockade of the action potential. Tetrodotoxin acts on the central and the peripheral nervous systems (ie, autonomic, motor, sensory nerves).

Tetrodotoxin also stimulates the chemoreceptor trigger zone in the medulla oblongata and depresses the respiratory and vasomotor centers in that area.


The first symptom of intoxication is a slight numbness of the lips and tongue, appearing between 20 minutes to three hours after eating poisonous pufferfish. The next symptom is increasing paraesthesia in the face and extremities, which may be followed by sensations of lightness or floating. Headache, epigastric pain, nausea, diarrhea, and/or vomiting may occur. Occasionally, some reeling or difficulty in walking may occur. The second stage of the intoxication is increasing paralysis. Many victims are unable to move; even sitting may be difficult. There is increasing respiratory distress. Speech is affected, and the victim usually exhibits dyspnea, cyanosis, and hypotension. Paralysis increases and convulsions, mental impairment, and cardiac arrhythmia may occur. The victim, although completely paralyzed, may be conscious and in some cases completely lucid until shortly before death. Death usually occurs within 4 to 6 hours, with a known range of about 20 minutes to 8 hours.

WHAT TO DO IF INGESTED: No antidote known. Rush to the hospital immediately.

For further reading, visit:



Naturally found in black widow spiders. The most famous is the Latrodectus mactans. Their bites, however, are rarely fatal to humans.

DISTRIBUTION: Within the United States, deserts of the American Southwest, Canada, Mexico, West Indies, and South America. A terrestrial environment is the habitat of the Latrodectus mactans. It is ubiquitous and builds strong-walled retreats quite close to the ground and in dark sheltered spots. However, it also spreads its snares over plants. Webs of the black widow spider can be found in recesses under stones or logs in a woodpile, in crevices or holes in dirt embankments, in barns and outbuildings. When it does seek shelter in a building, it is due to cold weather and a need for a dry shelter.

FEATURES: The adult female Latrodectus mactans is 2-3 cm long and has a body length of 2-3 cm. The male is about four times smaller than the female and is less dangerous. Besides the reddish hourglass-shaped design, it often has four pairs of reddish stripes on the sides of the abdomen.

Causes massive release of neurotransmitters, severely impairing the victim's cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems.

Clinically, a bite of Lactrodectus rarely can cause serious health problems. In severe cases, a bite can cause lactrodectism, a disease consisting of raised blood pressure, generalized muscle pain, abdominal cramps, extreme sweating and tachycaia. The average duration of the syndrome in humans is 3 to 6 days. Untreated patients have exhibited clinical signs for a period of 7 days, but weakness and some muscle pain and malaise may persist for weeks. About 75% of the intoxicated patients experience local effects and do not develop systemic envenomation. A pinprick or burning sensation can be felt when bitten by widow spiders. Local pain worsens over time, which may combine with sweating and piloerection. The pain may spread to local lymph nodes or become generalized

There is a specific red-back antivenin which is used when signs of systemic envenomation are observed. The pressure-immobilization method is not recommended since it can cause extreme pain in the affected area. Instead, ice packs could be used for relief. Rush to the hospital if symptoms worsen.

For further reading, visit:

If you think what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, think again.



For each toxin (in order as they were presented)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pituitary Hormones Gone Rhythmical!

Photo from 
So, this is a poem I made about the anterior pituitary hormones. It started off a bit casual, then I feel like it magically turned old-school. It's like I came straight out of the 1800 era >:) I'm calling it, The Master, since I'm talking about the master gland, and ... well you know the story (come on, you're reading a clinical chemistry blog, I'm pretty sure you get it) so here it is:

"The Master"

A mere student with a pen in the hand
I'm tasked to write about the pituitary gland
I'm no Shakespeare when I play with words
I'll squeeze my brain out to keep you from getting bored

Clock’s ticking as inspirations run dry
Thought-deprived and I begin to sigh
I’ll now speak from an old English man’s heart
A tale will be shared and now it shall start

Once upon a time in a faraway land
There exist a being called man
A number of glands rest in the flesh within
Powered by zeal as they work like a team

Wisdom unraveled a name for them
Collectively, they belong to the Endocrine system
One stood out like an apple in an orange tree
To spit mucus, is its meaning literally

Hailed as the master gland, without objection
Its absence reeks profound alteration
Under its comrade, hypothalamus it is positioned
Remaining glands crumble without its stimulation

They call it the mighty pituitary gland
Production of eight messengers, it commands
From the front end, the first six are withdrawn
Each has control to units they act upon

Growth hormone is one of them as I recall
It controls the fate whether you’re big or small
Man embodies Goliath if it’s produced in excess
A walking gnome you shall be, if it is depressed

Thyroid stimulating hormone, known as TSH
Too much would aggravate the thyroid’s outrage
Metabolism wouldn’t dare to start without its production
Too little causes a young mind’s retardation

LH and FSH, messengers that rise for a common reason
It causes the liberty of gonads during the mating season
It separates he from she, man has no choice
Controls the curve of her hips and depth of his voice

Prolactin has wonders toward the tender breast
Lactation, in this, women shall attest
To feed the young is not solely where it is addressed
It is also considered as a messenger of stress

Adrenocorticotropic hormone, the final of them all
It gives rise to the well-known Cortisol
How sweet the blood is, one of its primary callings
Overflowing, it causes the syndrome Cushing's

The mystery of the mighty gland is almost unmasked
Illnesses associated have taken man aback
How and why, we’ll answer them all
But as the master gland it shall never fall

It’s done, but alas, I acted all old-school
I did sound prehistoric and maybe a fool
I’m no Shakespeare as I’ve said before
What rhymes with before? I can’t think anymore :)

Weird ending, I know. Haha Good day people! :)

P.S Thank you, Roy for the help! :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


It took me forever to get here - to arrive with the perfect introduction for my new breed of blog - a blog infused with facts. A blog that is teeming with words that can actually be of use.

This is my first attempt. I don't know if this will even qualify as a good introduction.

I always saw blogs as a pool of opinions or information based primarily on personal angles that don't necessarily need to be justified by hard cold facts.

Then baam! We were tasked to write about these three little words.

 Unfortunately, they're not the classic-universally-excessively-everybody-wants-to-talk-about "I LOVE YOU." I could ramble all day if that was the case. And no, its not the heartstopping "WE SHOULD TALK."  But those 3 magical words were:


My initial reaction upon hearing these: Nothing. Complete silence. Crickets.

I like writing but definitely not about these. I know, I know, these are not the most, how should I say this, enticing blog topics, to say the least. But since I'm a Medical Laboratory Science student, I should be able to talk about this in a breeze. I should know this by heart :) Those three words were proofs that I am on the final stage of my clinical chemistry journey. Clearly, I need facts to back me up plus I need rewiring of whatever shred of memory I have supplementary to my task.

And now, the challenge begins. 

So I ask myself, what can I do to sound plausible without sounding like I'm reading straight from a textbook? I feel like that writer, Josie Geller from the 1999 movie "Never Been Kissed". I am under an unexplained pressure to write something not good, but amazing and carry on knowledge especially to those under the medical profession's belt. But just like what she said in the movie, "To write well, you have to write what you know.....

Well, here is what I know..." Nothing fancy, but just the way I know it.

The first word: ENDOCRINOLOGY.

Endocrinology is basically the study of the endocrine system - its development, mechanisms, and diseases or conditions associated to it. This field study of medicine involves the glands of the endocrine system which are the pituitary, hypothalamus, thyroid, parathyroid, pancreas, adrenal glands. The ovaries and testes are also included. These glands produce primary specific secretions - the hormones.

Endocrinology mainly focuses on the hormones, which are the messenger molecules of the body. They specifically stimulate and regulate development and activity of target cells which result in physiological effects on the body. 

Endocrinology is concerned with  how hormones are synthesized, developed, interact with each other, their receptors, the pathways they use, and the diseases that may affect them. Their physiological functions and all processes involving them are also understood.

Diagnosis and proper functioning of the endocrine system are not the only interests of endocrinology, but it also supplies knowledge for care and treatment of the said system. It usually addresses hormonal imbalances, metabolism and growth disorders, etc. 

Toxicology is the study of the harmful effects of a toxic agent (whether biological, physical or chemical in form) on living organisms, usually on human health.  Basically, it explains what unfavorable outcomes may occur when one living system is subjected to an agent. It provides an assessment of risk, examines why such toxic agent produces adverse effects to the body, its symptoms, treatment  and processes of toxicity in the body. Its goal is to determine the degree of toxicity or exposure of an organism to allow corresponding interventions to be done.

It also takes into consideration factors that may affect or predetermine the adverse effects on the system. These factors may be the dosage, nature of the agent, time, etc.  

Toxicology is not only under the field of medicine. It also encompasses biological and chemical aspects resulting in various subdisciplines within the field such as clinical and forensic toxicology.

and lastly, DRUG TESTING.

Drug Testing is the analysis of a biological specimen to confirm whether a certain parent drug or its metabolites are present in the human body. It detects whether you've taken a certain drug or not. Biological specimens include hair, saliva, blood urine, sweat, or any body fluid.

It determines the type of drug taken illegally or medically and possibly, the circulating amount. Usually, illegal drugs taken by a person are determined. This is very useful for detecting drug abuse, assessing overdose, monitoring of  rehabilitation program and ensures appropriate treatment when the responsible drug is identified.  Cocaine, amphetamine, heroin, morphine, alcohol are some of the most commonly tested drugs.

It is a must for we, future medical technologists to have a strong background on these three words for we perform the methods of analysis to the components of these studies. If we don't, it defeats our purpose.
Those three words. They're black and white.They signify that I have so much to learn about, still. But they also say that I'm almost at the end of the road - the road to becoming a medical technologist :)