Dr Kulwant Singh
c o m m o n n a m e : e r g o t or r y e , s p u r r e d r y e
Ergot is a fungus, from family Clavicepitaceae, botanical name being Claviceps purpura. Secale Cor is made from the plant Rye infected by Claviceps. Rye is a grass that produced Rye was first cultivated rather late in human history, perhaps as recently as 2000 to 3000 years ago. It is still grown extensively in northern Europe and Asia. It lacks the proteins that make wheat suitable for living, and rye bread is denser and usually darker than the wheat bread, hence called Black Bread.
Ergot appears as black grain size fungal structures. In late spring , these ergots germinate and form tiny spore producing mushroom like structures. Infectious spores are carried by wind currents to the host during the flowering stage. Infection of the cereal flowers may produce a secondary phase called Honeydew. Honeydew is a shiny sticky liquid that oozes from infected flowers and contains large numbers of ergot spores. The spores spread to adjacent flowers and heads by insects and rain splash particularly to the open flowers of rye. Ergot that germinate in June can infect early flowering weed grasses, which produce honeydew when cereals are flowering.
It gives out a sickening heavy smell. Its colour is externally purplish black. Internally it is pinkish white. It has a nauseous and slightly acrid taste.
After an overdose of ergot or medications derived from ergot or from eating flour milled from ergot infected rye, humans and livestock may develop ergotism, a condition sometimes called as St. Anthony’s Fire. The symptoms include Convulsions, Miscarriages and Dry Gangrene and may be Death. It contains the crystalline alkaloid Ergotamine, Ergotinine and the amorphous alkaloid Ergotoxine.
Dr Stearns of Waterford, New York introduced it in 1807 as a substance, which he had used for several years to expedite lingering labors when pains had subsided and were incomplete to expel the foetus. It is justly regarded as unfortunate if the labor does not come to an end soon after the administration of the Ergot, since if it be delayed there is reason to believe that the child will be poisoned by it.
“These poisonous effects are said to be due to the oil of the Ergot, which if given alone to a parturient woman, does not cause contraction of the uterus, but does poison the foetus. Whereas on the other hand the Ergot, deprived of its oil, acts on the uterus, but does not poison the foetus. This phenomenon has not been explained as yet….“(Dr Carol Dunham)
Ergot is the common name given to the sclerotium formed by that fungus. The sclerotium is the fungal mass that replaces the seed of the plane, it may have somewhat the same general configuration as the seed but is a larger, dark colored and hard.
Ergot has had several uses in the field of medicine. There are reports as far back as 1582 of European and Chinese midwives using it to reduce hemorrhage following childbirth. It has also been used to induce abortions. Two of the alkaloids of ergot , ergotoxine and ergotamine have also been found to have medical uses. Ergotamine and to a lesser extent ergotoxine , were found to be remarkable in the treatment of migraine headaches. However both ergotamine and ergotoxine cause gangrene with chronic use. It must therefore be used only under strict medical supervision.
One of the most famous derivatives of ergot was lysergic acid. In 1938, two Swiss researchers, Hofmann and Stoll, derived d-lysergic acid diethymanide (LSD). It was thought to be relatively uninteresting until Hofmann accidentally ingested a small quantity of the drug. He was the first person to go on an “acid trip”. LSD is the most famous psychotomimetic drug and was used widely in North America and Europe through the 70’s. After ingesting LSD, the user will experience optical changes, inability to concentrate, phases of uncontrollable laughter, anxiousness and the quite typical experience of the subject standing outside of the body watching these events. Senses are also enhanced. The “trip” lasts for about 8 hours with a state of self-centeredness that lasts for an additional 5 hours. The first major outbreak of dancing mania was in Aix-la-chapelle in July of 1374. A group of people was seen to dance uncontrollably in the streets, foaming at the mouth and screaming of wild visions. They kept on dancing until they collapsed from exhaustion, but even then they flailed about in agony until forcefully restrained. The dancing caught on, and spread rapidly throughout France and the Low Countries. The dancing mania, especially as described in Aix-la-Chapelle, may have had a physical hypotheses, that the manic dancers (at least some of them) were victims of ergot poisoning , or ergotiism. Ergotism, which was known in the Middle Ages as “St. Anthony’s Fire”, is a toxic condition in humans and animals which inadvertently eat rye and other grasses parasitized by Claviceps purpurea (ergot).
Ergot has been widely used for many centuries for a number of different purposes ranging from its medical uses to its recreational drug uses. It has also been the cause of great many epidemics across Europe from the early 10th to the late 19th century. Knowledge of this fungus has increased throughout the years, however further research into the alkaloid derivatives may still produce beneficial medical uses.
This is a medicine for which no human proving has been done due to its toxicity. The pathogenesis and symptomatology has been derived from its effect on human race accidentally, by its effect on cattle, lower animals and some proving on lower animals. There were so many epidemics of ergotism, due to which the symptoms have been recorded and have been confirmed in clinical practice. In almost every branch of medicine it has been used for contractions during birth, dilation of veins, decreasing blood pressure and treatment of migraines etc.
Since ancient times it was known to produce ergotism which then was divided into two main groups, i.e., Gangrenous ergotism and Convulsive ergotism and another being Hallucinogenic ergotism.( Dr Peter J Burfening , Ph.D).
In gangrenous bodily extremities turn black, dry and become mummified, making it possible for infected limbs to spontaneously break off at the joints. In convulsive ergotism there were epileptic form seizures, violent retching, tongue biting or unusual breathing patterns. This resulted in permanent nerve damage, deformity and long recovery period. In hallucinogenic ergotism , there were vivid hallucinations, nervousness, jerky movements, persons used to perform strange dances with wild movements, hopping, leaping and screaming until exhausted which often lead to unconsciousness.
Dr Willard Ide Pierce writes : “ The chief interest in the action of ergot centers about its power to produce tonic contractions of involuntary muscle fiber; the arterioles are violently and persistently contracted, causing dry coldness of the surface and even gangrene of the lower extremities, and we have records of terrible epidemics of what are now believed to have been due to ergotism; that have devastated sections of Europe from the ninth to the last century (1089 – 1816). Depending on observations for years together the action of Secale Cor on different parts of the body can be described as follows:-
Influence of ergot on foetus:
There are instances that ergot administered in tedious and difficult, slow labors has proved very destructive to the life of the child. Dr Moore of New York says “It appears to be injurious to the child at all times; for, in every case in which I have seen it exhibited, the child has been stillborn.”
In fact if the cervix is not dilated and ergot is administered, due to contraction of uterus gives pressure on the child which may cause of the death. According to Dr Meigs it should be employed at the moment of, or just before, the birth of the child, in order to secure a good contraction of the womb in women who are known to be subject to hemorrhage.
Digestive system: Increased peristalsis, diarrhea, vomiting
The most evident symptom in the early stage of the action of ergot is retching, vomiting, diarrhea and profuse salivary secretion which are consequences of the action of the poison on the sensory nerves of the mucous membrane of the alimentary canal, these are excitement , communicated to the motor and secretory regions.
In Dr Wright’s experiments, the intestines were found in very active peristalsis at the post-mortem examination of the poisoned animals.
In rabbits it also produced very violent peristalsis. It produced involuntary stools, which may be its affect on the sphincter muscles of anus and bladder.
SKIN: (Gangrenous ergotism): Diaphoresis, Gangrene, Purpura, Coldness of Skin
The symptoms which characterize gangrenous ergotism as such often appear within from two to seven days. An erypsipelatous redness shows itself on some spots in the periphery, most frequently on the toes and feet, but also on the fingers and hand, more rarely on the ears and the nose; soon after the epidermis is raised like a bladder by serous exudation; the ichorous contents of this are soon discharged , and a gangrenous spot develops very rapidly at the affected spot. The part affected is very painful but later on it becomes quite insensible. The gangrene depends on the fact that the part affected is deprived of its blood supply, and its nutrition thereby arrested, consequently, it must pass into a state of decomposition. The only question is whether it is inflammation which leads to gangrene, or whether the process is of a non inflammatory character, resembling that which occurs when all the vessels going to a limb are ligatured. When we consider that the initial so called erysipelatous redness is simply dependent on the cyanosis, and that these spots are not , as in a case of inflammation hot and swollen, but on the contrary, they become very cold, and warmth can not be restored in them, and that the affected limb is not at all swollen, the hypothesis that such a gangrene is of an inflammatory character may be rejected as there is no fever also.
Temperature: Lowers down the temperature, hence there is coldness of the skin. It may come down by 4-5 degrees. It is the result of its action on the heart and vascular system.
Dr Kulwant Singh
Dean: Faculty of Homoeopathy, Vinoba Bhave Uiversity
Principal: S H Medical college and Hospital, Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, India
Email : [email protected]
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