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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Logan, Utah » Poisonous Plant Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #294492

Research Project: Understanding and Mitigating the Adverse Effects of Poisonous Plants on Livestock Production Systems

Location: Poisonous Plant Research

Title: Persistence of echimidine, a hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloid, from honey into mead

item CAO, Y - Commonwealth Scientific And Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
item Colegate, Steven
item EDGAR, J - Commonwealth Scientific And Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)

Submitted to: Journal of Food Composition and Analysis
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/19/2012
Publication Date: 3/1/2013
Publication URL:
Citation: Cao, Y., Colegate, S.M., Edgar, J.A. 2013. Persistence of echimidine, a hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloid, from honey into mead. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. 29(2): 106-9.

Interpretive Summary: This focused study does not provide any market-based survey of meads for the presence of intact dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids. Nor does it examine the effect of the different approaches to mead production on the persistence of intact dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids from the honey to the mead. However, it does clearly and unambiguously show that the toxic dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloid echimidine can persist intact from honey through to the resulting mead. It is reasonable to expect that other dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids, especially those more stable than echimidine, will also survive the mead production process intact. This confirmation reinforces prior scientific advice for closer and specific monitoring of the human food supply for the presence of toxic dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids, especially in niche type foods that may unknowingly focus on the use of products derived from dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloid-producing plants.

Technical Abstract: Honey produced by bees foraging on Echium plantagineum is known to contain dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids characteristic of the plant. Following a prolific growth of E. plantagineum in the wake of Australian bushfires, two samples of mead, a fermented drink made from honey, and the honey used to prepare the mead were analyzed for the presence of Echium-related dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids. HPLC–esiMS and MS/MS analysis of the alkaloidal fractions obtained using strong cation exchange, solid phase extraction unequivocally confirmed the presence of echimidine, a major hepatotoxic dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloid produced by E. plantagineum, in the honey (780 ng/g) and in the subsequent mead samples (236–540 ng/mL). The results from this limited, and specifically targeted sample set, while not indicative of the extent of the presence of echimidine (or other dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids) in meads, reinforce the need for a wider survey and perhaps subsequent routine monitoring to determine the potential contribution to long-term, low-level or intermittent exposure to these toxic alkaloids and consequent chronic disease development.