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Argemone, the seed of trouble

EXPRESS NEWS SERVICE

NEW DELHI, AUG 28: Mustard oil adulterated with argemone oil is responsible for the dropsy epidemic in the capital. Argemone, the toxin, leads to swollen feet, rashes and cardiac problems. If the body's resistance mechanism is not strong enough, the disease could be fatal.

NEW DELHI, AUG 28: Mustard oil adulterated with argemone oil is responsible for the dropsy epidemic in the capital. Argemone, the toxin, leads to swollen feet, rashes and cardiac problems. If the body's resistance mechanism is not strong enough, the disease could be fatal.

Doctors say there is no antidote for the toxin, and the treatment patients receive in hospitals is completely symptomatic. ``We are treating patients for swollen feet and cardiac problems. There is nothing we can do about the toxin as such,'' explains a doctor at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.

Argemone is the seed used by dealers to adulterate mustard oil. Argemone oil is used for making soaps and is very caustic. When mixed with mustard oil, the combination is lethal.

In the body, the oil accumulates in the stomach, producing large quantities of pyrobic acid in the stomach. This leads to a stomach upset.

``Moreover, this toxin increases the permeability of the arteries and veins. As a result, there is movement of water into the tissues,'' explains Dr R N Baishya, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital medical superintendent. ``The water-filled tissues result in swollen feet.''

Because people spend a considerable amount of time on their feet, the tissues there are affected first, which is why swollen feet are the first symptoms of dropsy. The heart is also affected in the same manner, as are the kidneys and lungs. Breathlessness and cardiac problems arise subsequently.

In the last 24 hours, 65 patients with the above mentioned symptoms were admitted to the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital. Till 4 pm today, there were 42 more admissions. At Safdarjung Hospital, 42 were admitted, including seven children. GTB Hospital admitted 13 new dropsy patients today.

Dropsy cases are being reported from new localities like Munirka, R K Puram, Dabri and Najafgarh.

According to the doctors, 0.01 per cent of argemone is enough for a toxic effect. They add that as much as 0.25 per cent of argemone has been detected in some samples.

Vegetable oil may also be adulterated

According to the Heart Care Foundation of India, some vegetable oil samples may also be unsafe. According to Dr K K Aggarwal, vice-chairman of the Foundation, two samples of Dhara refined vegetable oil also tested positive for argemone adulteration. The samples were from a Janakpuri residence and East of Kailash. A complaint has been filed with the PFA department. The department, however, denied carrying out the test.

The Foundation has warned people that mathri, achar and snacks could be made in adulterated oil and consumers should be cautious of what they buy and eat.

However, rumours about adulterated ghee have proved to be baseless. After a man named Rehmantullah and his family were admitted at the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital today, word went around that the ghee they used for cooking was adulterated and the family was down with dropsy. However, DDU Medical Superintendent R N Baishya clarified that this was a case of food poisoning and not dropsy.

``The family was admitted this morning. There were four adults and two children, with the same symptoms -- vomiting and drowsiness. These are not exactly dropsy symptoms,'' Baishya said.

``We asked the family, which is well on its way to recovery, routine questions like what they had eaten for dinner,'' Baishya adds, ``We were told that they had cooked the food in ghee and before we knew it, the rumour that ghee was adulterated spread like wild fire.''

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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