Don’t Eat Too Much Nutmeg

Don’t Eat Too Much Nutmeg
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The spice nutmeg may have a relatively narrow margin of safety.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In my research on cinnamon, I ran across a peculiar paper, speculating that certain natural compounds of spices, such as nutmeg, may form “amphetamine-like 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, where it was 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, where it was used as an abortifacent, to induce a miscarriage, and in the 1960s, as a psychotropic drug. The researchers conclude that while nutmeg “is much cheaper for use and probably less dangerous” than heroin, you don’t want to take too much.

The toxic dose of nutmeg is two to three teaspoons, which I assumed no one would ever come close to, unintentionally—until I saw this report, in which a couple ate some pasta and collapsed; were hospitalized. A big mystery until the “husband revealed that he had accidentally added one-third of a jar of nutmeg to the meal whilst cooking it.” That’s like about four teaspoons. I don’t know how they could have [eaten] it. I imagine the poor wife, just trying to be polite.

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Images thanks to Frank C. Müller via Wikimedia

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In my research on cinnamon, I ran across a peculiar paper, speculating that certain natural compounds of spices, such as nutmeg, may form “amphetamine-like 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, where it was 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, where it was used as an abortifacent, to induce a miscarriage, and in the 1960s, as a psychotropic drug. The researchers conclude that while nutmeg “is much cheaper for use and probably less dangerous” than heroin, you don’t want to take too much.

The toxic dose of nutmeg is two to three teaspoons, which I assumed no one would ever come close to, unintentionally—until I saw this report, in which a couple ate some pasta and collapsed; were hospitalized. A big mystery until the “husband revealed that he had accidentally added one-third of a jar of nutmeg to the meal whilst cooking it.” That’s like about four teaspoons. I don’t know how they could have [eaten] it. I imagine the poor wife, just trying to be polite.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Frank C. Müller via Wikimedia

Doctor's Note

There are also potentially toxic compounds in certain types of cinnamon; see Update on Cinnamon for Blood Sugar Control.

You can also overdo other healthful plant foods if you consume too much of the yellow curry spice turmeric (see Oxalates in Cinnamon); drink too much tea (see Overdosing on Tea); eat too much soy (see How Much Soy is Too Much?); too much seaweed (see Avoiding Iodine Deficiency); too many broccoli sprouts (see How Much Broccoli is Too Much?; and even too many raw cruciferous vegetables (see Overdosing on Greens).

For my last video in this three-part series on the safety of spices, see The Safety of Tarragon.

For even more context, check out my associated blog posts: Cinnamon for Diabetes and Tarragon Toxicity?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

22 responses to “Don’t Eat Too Much Nutmeg

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  1. A long time ago, I accidentally used about 2 tablespoons of freshly ground mace in a swedish meatball recipe. My boyfriend and I ate it for dinner, and also for lunch the next day. We couldn’t figure out why we felt so…stoned. I called my older brother, who had given me the (verbal) recipe, and he said, “Are you crazy? I said 2 pinches! Mace is part nutmeg. You could kill yourself with too much!”
    You wonder how the couple ate the food, but honestly ours was quite good like that. :)

  2. Wow. Yet: Interesting on more of an intellectual level than anything else, since as you said, it seems unlikely that someone would really eat such a dosage unless by accident. Thus, I have some disagreement with the video’s description that nutmeg has a narrow safety of margin. That sounds like sensational headline-ism (which I hope this site will avoid!) – since that safety of margin seems pretty big to me given how much nutmeg one is normally likely to eat. The examples of someone getting hurt by nutmeg seem akin to me to be like the example of people hurting themselves with too much soy. They have to eat extreme amounts to get there. That’s just my opinion of course.

    That said, this is a good reminder that no matter how good something is for us, it should be taken in moderation. Since I had never heard anything bad said about nutmeg and I had assumed that the more, the better, I’m really glad to have viewed this video.

    One bit I would have liked this video to include what a little sentence on whether Dr. Greger still thinks that nutmeg in moderation is a good part of a healthy diet. It seems in past videos, (perhaps I am remembering incorrectly) that Dr. Greger highly endorsed nutmeg – especially given all of its antioxidants. Just some feedback on the video.

    Thanks.

    1. Mark: I am able to see all 1:57 minutes. Perhaps there is something wrong with your browser? I can’t help you trouble-shoot, but I thought you would want to know that it is working for some people.

    2. The same happens for me using Safari on a Mac, and also on my iPad. However, if I go to the YouTube website I can view the entire video on my Mac and iPad. Can’t imagine why this should be the case … maybe something to do with the embedding code.

  3. One of my older friends recalled that as a child when he and his friends
    were getting too rambunctious at his grandma’s house, she used to take out her
    nutmeg and slice off slivers and feed it to them until they mellowed out. He said they usually all fell asleep on the
    sofas when she did that… hmmm.

  4. Nutmeg oil is used to make a cola flavor in at least one natural diet soda. Given the diet soda intake of some people, I could see them getting up to the higher doses of nutmeg.

  5. Way to break news that the effects of nutmeg have been known since the 1500’s… Exciting stuff.

    Breaking News: Too much of any one thing is bad for you.

  6. I heard this NPR story about nutmeg, and here’s the related article (you can also listen to the story if you like): http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/11/26/165657050/no-innocent-spice-the-secret-story-of-nutmeg-life-and-death. The article is called “No Innocent Spice: The Secret Story Of Nutmeg, Life And Death” — it’s about how nutmeg has a bloody history of imperialist powers competing to control its trade because it was popular among the rich for its hallucinogenic properties. If you listen to the audio, the Dutch actually wholesale slaughtered all the people who were native to the so-called “spice islands” (modern Indonesia) to control nutmeg. Also, the Dutch traded Manhattan to the British for the last of the nutmeg-growing islands they controlled.

  7. I’ve seen people purposefully get stoned on nutmeg. as an observer it was funny watching people retch while trying to drink ground nutmeg that had been simmered in milk.

  8. By definition, ‘too much’ of anything is bad for you. Without a quantity, each ‘too’ statement is meaningless.

  9. I have always been a fan of nutmegs and I have just started using it on a daily basis. I will definitely cut down from daily to probably every other day now. Thanks for this informative video.

  10. I think the operative term is too much. I’m fed up with magic supplements and foods. Over and over it can be demonstrated that concentrated substances are detrimental to health.

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