Monday, May 2, 2011

Medical Mondays: Done in by Fava Beans

This is not related to Hannibal Lecter's famous meal of liver, fava beans and that oh-so-nice Chianti.

(Does anyone drink Chianti without thinking a little bit of Dr. Lecter? Just wondering.)

Favism is a disease where people's red blood cells rupture (called hemolysis) when they eat Fava beans.

The basis of the disease is a deficient enzyme called G6PD (glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase) which is necessary for red blood cell membrane health. It's linked to the X-chromosome, which means mostly men get the symptomatic disease.

During a hemolytic crisis when a person's red cells rupture, the sufferer can have symptoms such as jaundice (yellow eyes and skin), paleness, weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, or fainting.

People with G6PD deficiency can have the same reaction to medications such as anti-malarials, sulfa-containing drugs, aspirin, and some antibiotics.

Favism has been known since antiquity as a cause of anemia. The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras recommended abstinence from Fava beans, possibly to avoid this disease.

This would be a pretty elaborate way to incapacitate a fictional character who was susceptible. Hide some Fava beans in brownies, maybe?


Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice.

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer.

46 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

Srsly, where do you find these little facts? :)

Jessica Bell said...

Oh my gosh! I had no ida there was such a thing! I LOVE fava beans! hahaha. Gotta tell my Sig Oth. hmm .. actually no, he'll prob get paranoid ...

Sarah said...

Ew. That sounds terrible! And yet ... so fascinating. I love these facts, Lydia!

Karen Lange said...

I did not know this! But then I pretty much learn something new every time I stop by to see you. Thanks Lydia! :)

Kelly said...

I cannot drink a Chianti without thinking of Hannibal!
So strange that there is a disease centering around the consumption of Fava beans. So crazy!!
And I don't think I've ever had Fava beans...

Anne Gallagher said...

This is totally wild. We were just talking about fava beans last night. And we don't eat them.

Old Kitty said...

Now you've got me googling "fava beans" cos I haven't a clue what they are and want to avoid them at all costs! LOL!!!

But seriously!! Good grief!!! Who'd thought that a humble bean could be so lethal!! Take care
x

B.E. Sanderson said...

Weird. And before Silence of the Lambs, I'd never even heard of Fava beans.

Em-Musing said...

Hmm? Who, when and why did anyone link a fava bean to a strange anemia?
This kind of medical discovery always amazes me.

Clarissa Draper said...

I never eat fava beans but this is very interesting information.

Lindsay said...

Wow. Now I'm off to show off my newfound knowledge. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Now that's a wild disease! And I've never had Chianti, but that and fava beans will always be credited to Lecter.

notesfromnadir said...

Fava beans in brownies???? You're funny.

I've had fava beans once & they tasted bad. But I had no idea they could really mess people up like that. Wow, I never know what I'll learn when I come over here on Monday!

Chris Phillips said...

I've been saying beans could kill for years, but mostly it was other people dying after I ate beans.

Linda Gray said...

Wow, Lydia, reading your posts is as good as watching 'House' for learning about obscure afflictions (w/o the near-inevitable seizures and convoluted paths of diagnosis including questions about possible lung obstructions). Another fascinating one. Fava beans, wow.

Bossy Betty said...

Loved this! I just like saying "Fava Beans" and will do so all day now.

Faith said...

Wow! I can honestly say I had no idea... but now the ideas are bubbling... I was *looking* for some unique ways to kill people off, and this might be just the thing!

Munk said...

Favism + orit = favoritism.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

It would only be poetic justice if Hannibal Lector suffered from this! Always a fascinating post, Roland

Colene Murphy said...

Ew weird!!! Had no idea that was a thing! Thanks for the interesting info!

Tracey Neithercott said...

I've never heard about it. What a weird disease. It makes me want to write a character with this just to cause death by fava.

Tiana Smith said...

So weird. I bet your books are filled with characters who die in really interesting ways ... Also, remind me to stay on your good side :)

Heather said...

You always bring us the most interesting, amazing things that I had no idea existed. I love that! I'm jotting this one down. Fave beans, who would have known?!

Holly Ruggiero said...

Interesting. This post reminded me the there is an Italian cookie shapes like a fava bean. I think it's called fave dolci.

LTM said...

whoa! Get out! That's a pretty severe food allergy... or food reaction. Hmmm.... me's thinking~ :D <3

Lazarus said...

Very cool blog Lydia, I just discovered it and have signed on to follow. And thanks for your follow of The LG Report, much appreciated!

Anita said...

I just don't drink Chianti...hmmm...wonder of I should give up brownies.

M Pax said...

Wow. I never would have guessed this one.

Connie said...

The only thing I knew about fava beans was that they fixed nitrogen in the soil. Now I know that they could have a much more nefarious usage.

Jennifer Hillier said...

I get so many good ideas when I come here! And yes, I can't hear or speak the word "fava" without hearing Dr. Lecter's voice in my head saying in that perfectly creepy way.

-E- said...

any post that mentions pythagoras is good in my book. where did you hear that about his anti-bean stance?

The Words Crafter said...

Wow, I never even imagined something like this! The only reason I know about fava beans is because of Hannibal.

Kinda cool and scary at the same time!

Krispy said...

Who knew beans could be so powerful? But seriously, who came up with this stuff? :P

Alleged Author said...

The idea that a little bean could cause such a reaction is freaky. It's almost "Jack and the Beanstalk" in a very twisted way!

Jai Joshi said...

I can only think of the possibilities with this condition. Just consider the spoof murder mysteries!

Jai

Sailor said...

Never heard of this before. I think soon I can call myself a doctor:)

Jemi Fraser said...

Death by Fava Beans would be a great title! :) Sends my mind in so many directions :)

Susan Fields said...

Ha ha - the hidden fava beans - very sneaky! I've never even heard of them before, how interesting that they have their own disease.

Lydia K said...

Hey -E-,
Apparently Pythagoras and his Pythagorean followers abstained from beans (just Google Pythagoras and Fava), but there's a lot of questions as to why. The Favism is one theory, but it's still hotly debated.

:)

lbdiamond said...

Favism, not to be confused with favoratism...though both can be hazardous to one's health. ;)-

Nice post, Lydia! :D

Carol Kilgore said...

This is so cool. They could be a real hidden ingredient, but probably easy to detect on autopsy if they know to look. Hmmm.

Jonene Ficklin said...

Ha ha, I enjoyed your illustration and blog, as always! I'll never look at Fava beans the same.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Where do you come up with such unique diseases, Lydia? I don't know why I am enjoying reading all the monday posts. Maybe sub consciously I am planning a real creepy murder mystery where I use all the things I have learnt in the monday posts to kill the victims.

Medeia Sharif said...

I did not know this.

I recently read a novel with interesting medical facts. They make a story interesting.

Pretty said...

Interestingly enough, my friends and I were talking about this bean the other day at lunch!!

Why go with poison, when the innocent bean can do the job...

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