By Sean Zucker –
As the leaves begin to turn, one thing is clear: it’s officially pumpkin-spice season. People are now lining up at their local Starbucks or coffee shop to indulge in a seasonal latte. But despite the drink’s popularity, some experts warn that its main ingredient carries a few health risks when consumed in large amounts.
It would be fair to assume that the most dangerous ingredient in these autumn specials is the hefty amount of sugar. However, nutritionists are beginning to caution that nutmeg is potentially worse, especially in considerable quantities. Starbucks reports that each of their pumpkin-spiced lattes contains roughly two teaspoons of ground nutmeg. This amount may not initially appear alarming or dangerous. But start consuming larger doses via spiced lattes or in other ways and all sorts of health problems can arise.
“Consuming large amounts of nutmeg can lead to hallucinations, nausea and other health issues. It should be used sparingly,” registered dietary nutritionist Mary Sabat recently told USA Today. She added that while the occasional pumpkin-spiced latte is perfectly safe to drink, knocking back too many too soon can lead to trouble.
The Spruce Eats explains that nutmeg creates issues largely due to a chemical known as myristicin, which produces toxic side effects. Pregnant women are at particular risk as myristicin can cause birth defects and miscarriages. Beyond this, nutmeg is particularly dangerous when mixed with drugs or alcohol. In certain extreme and rare cases, it may even result in death.
The American College of Emergency Physicians, in fact, last year detailed the rise in hospitalizations due to nutmeg toxicity. This was largely in response to something dubbed, “the nutmeg challenge,” which saw people ingesting large amounts of the spice in hopes of becoming intoxicated. The institute warned that the side effects of consuming too much nutmeg include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dry mouth, pupil dilation, unstable blood pressure and possibly seizures.
“Nutmeg, commonly used in cooking, has toxicity with high doses and should be considered for inappropriate ingestion by recreational substance abusers. The toxidrome is non-specific and involves multiple organ systems,” the institute reported.
Now, these concerns don’t mean everyone needs to toss away their favorite seasonal drinks and reject all nutmeg-infused items. The spice does offer benefits when used appropriately in moderation, which includes the antioxidants it possesses and the flavorings it adds to various dishes. “Nutmeg is a versatile spice that adds a warm, nutty flavor to both sweet and savory dishes,” Sabat noted. “It contains antioxidants that can help combat oxidative stress.”
Healthline backs up the notion that nutmeg packs powerful antioxidants that can help prevent cellular damage and protect against chronic disease, in addition to relieving stress. It adds that nutmeg might also be a strong anti-inflammatory that can fight heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, as well as being an antibacterial to protect against harmful bacteria like E.coli. This is on top of other potential nutmeg health benefits including supporting heart health, enhancing mood and improving blood sugar control, though Healthline admits more study is needed to support some of these claims.
One study did go even further in suggesting nutmeg offers some unique benefits. Researchers at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in India reported that it may boost libido and improve sex drive in men. The university’s research to date, however, focused exclusively on how male lab rats respond to nutmeg rather than humans.
Ultimately, it’s fine to grab an ever-popular pumpkin-spiced latte or a bit of nutmeg elsewhere. There might even be benefits when consumed in moderation. But it’s probably a good idea to skip having half a dozen lattes a day or embrace the nutmeg challenge.