The flesh of the death cap mushroom is said to be quite tasty, and many who have eaten it claim it is the most delicious they’ve ever tasted. But it is also deadly, as the name suggests–a few mouthfuls can kill.
There is currently no good treatment for poisoning from death cap mushrooms (Amanita phalloides), writes Harvard doctoral student Cat Adams at Slate. But that may be about to change. In a clinical trial by S. Todd Mitchell of Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, Calif., all of the 60-some patients who took a compound called silibinin within four days of eating a death cap mushroom survived:
The research hasn’t been published yet—60 patients aren’t enough to confirm that silibinin really is the liver savior it seems to be—but the researchers are confident. “When we present to FDA, it will be a slam dunk for approval,” Mitchell says. “The drug has virtually no side effects, it’s very well tolerated, and if used correctly it’s awesomely effective.”
The drug works by preventing the mushroom’s toxins, called amatoxins, from getting into the liver. Amatoxins themselves prevent liver cells from creating a necessary enzyme. The amatoxins then leech into bile, ending up back in the intestines, creating a cycle of poisoning. The toxins also progressively damage the kidneys, unless the victim drinks large amounts of water–or “aggressively hydrates,” as Adams puts it. Often symptoms of poisoning, such as pain and nausea, are mistaken for something else, since they can kick in hours to days after the mushroom has been eaten. Death caps are also easily confused for a variety of edible fungi–and they are spreading throughout North America, and other continents.
Let’s hope that silibinin, which is derived from the plant milk thistle, can make a difference. Until then, never eat an unidentified mushroom. If you think you have eaten a death cap, obviously you shouldn’t be reading this but instead you should consult a doctor and tell him or her to contact Mitchell, as Adams writes. And stay hydrated!