oa South African Medical Journal - The Senecio alkaloids



Senecio plants (Sprinkaanbos; ragwort) are of great interest and importance. They contain alkaloids of which many have been identified chemically but only a few have been investigated experimentally. Senecio poisoning has long been known to be a cause of chronic illness and death in cattle and horses, e.g. Molteno disease, dunsiekte, and in man cases of 'bread poisoning' (from meal contaminated with the weed) occurred in, previous years in the Mossel Bay, George, Riversdale and Clanwilliam districts until preventive measures were taken. The features of poisoning were chiefly epigastric discomfort, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, with blood in the stools, emaciation, ascites, and enlarged liver; death occurred in 14 days to 2 years or longer after the onset of the disease. Many of the alkaloids have been shown to produce liver necrosis in various laboratory animals. Recently, by intermittent feeding of a Senecio plant extract for several months, nodular hyperplasia of liver cells or tumour-like masses showing the character of hepatomas and excessive proliferation of bile duct epithelium have been produced. It has, therefore, been suggested that the high incidence of primary liver carcinoma in the malnourished Bantu may bedue to the indiscriminate use of Senecio plants for various ailments from childhood and throughout life. The alkaloids also have other actions. The subject is fully reviewed in the present article.


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