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Milk Sickness

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) is a plant native to North America that contains a toxin called tremetol. Tremetol is responsible for a condition known as "milk sickness," which can affect both hum

ans and animals that consume the plant or its contaminated products. Historically, milk sickness was a significant health concern in certain regions of North America, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries. The name "milk sickness" arises from the fact that it often occurred when people consumed milk or meat from animals that had grazed on pastures containing white snakeroot. The symptoms of milk sickness can include:

  1. Nausea and vomiting

  2. Tremors and muscle stiffness

  3. Weakness and fatigue

  4. Abdominal pain

  5. Anorexia

  6. Severe sweating

  7. Death in severe cases

The condition can be particularly dangerous if not properly diagnosed and treated. The toxic compound tremetol disrupts normal cellular processes and can lead to severe symptoms, as mentioned above. Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, is believed to have died from milk sickness in 1818. The key to preventing milk sickness is to avoid the consumption of dairy or meat products from animals that have been exposed to white snakeroot. In modern times, milk sickness is quite rare because farmers are aware of the plant's toxicity and take measures to prevent their livestock from grazing on pastures where white snakeroot is present. If someone suspects they or their livestock may have been exposed to white snakeroot, it's essential to seek medical or veterinary care promptly. Treatment may involve supportive care, such as rehydration and medications to manage symptoms. Avoiding contaminated food sources remains the best prevention strategy.

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