Mushroom toxins

What are ‘mushroom toxins?’ This is the name given to a group of toxins which are found within various forms of fungi such as mushrooms and toadstools.

This occurs in wild mushrooms only. The mushrooms that you purchase within supermarkets are safe to eat.

Many types of wild mushrooms contain toxins which once eaten, cause a range of effects that include food poisoning. Most forms of mushroom poisoning are unpleasant but there are others which can be fatal.

Causes of mushroom poisoning

The main cause is that of picking mushrooms in the mistaken belief that they are safe to eat. Foraging for wild mushrooms is a popular activity but it is easy to confuse those mushrooms which are safe to eat with those which are deadly.

Many species of poisonous mushrooms are similar in appearance to those which can be eaten so it is easy to confuse the two.

Even experienced mushroom foragers can get this wrong so if you are thinking of doing this, you need to be absolutely sure that you know which mushrooms to choose and which to avoid.

Poisonous mushrooms

So which mushrooms (and toadstools) should you avoid?

These toxic versions include:

  • Death cap mushrooms (this causes many fatal poisoning cases).
  • Inocybe mushrooms
  • Cortinarius mushrooms
  • Magic mushrooms

Many of these poisonous mushrooms are only seen in rural areas. So, if you live in a town or city you are unlikely to be at risk.

The worst variety is the ‘death cap’ mushroom which can cause a severe gastrointestinal infection followed by liver or kidney failure. In some cases this can be fatal.

What is important to remember is that each species of poisonous mushroom will contain its own variety of toxins. So the effects of eating any of these will vary according to the type of toxin present within that mushroom.

Symptoms of mushroom poisoning

These are very similar to many types of food poisoning and include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea (may be watery)
  • Abdominal cramps/pains
  • Fever

These symptoms are common to many types of mushroom poisoning. These are accompanied by a range of other symptoms which will vary according to the toxicity.

Examples of these include: dizziness, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, flushes and headaches. These often appear after the gastrointestinal symptoms.

Be aware that several varieties of mushrooms contain a nerve toxin which causes symptoms such as chills, sweating, seizures and coma.

Those mushrooms with fewer toxins will cause a lesser form of poisoning than those with a higher degree of toxins. But eating any type of poisonous mushroom will cause you to become ill.

Treatment for mushroom poisoning

Some species of mushrooms cause mild forms of gastrointestinal illness which can be treated at home. However, others cause serious even life threatening illnesses which require hospital treatment.

Most forms of mushroom poisoning respond well to treatment. However, poisoning caused by mushroom such as the death cap has a high fatality rate even if it is treated right away.

The reason for that is that mushrooms such as the death cap contain a very high level of toxins which can cause serious damage. An example of this is organ failure (kidney or liver) which, in some cases, can be treated via a transplant but only if there are suitable donor organs.

The quicker someone with this type of poisoning is treated the greater their chance of survival.

Treatment is based upon intensive support which includes fluid replacement (inc. electrolyte therapy), charcoal and medication such as antibiotics.

All patients are closely monitored during their illness, usually every 4 hours or so and will undergo further tests to check liver and kidney function.

Most people recover well from mushroom poisoning but this is less so for those people who have consumed highly toxic mushrooms.

Prevention of mushroom poisoning

If you are uncertain as to what types of wild mushrooms to pick then avoid doing so. It is difficult to know which wild mushrooms are safe and which are not and even experts get it wrong.

If you want to be safe then avoid picking any wild mushrooms. Also prevent your children from doing so.

Food Poisoning Guide

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