The spice nutmeg appears to have a relatively narrow margin of safety.
In my research on cinnamon I ran across a peculiar paper entitled "Christmas Gingerbread and Christmas Cheer: Review of the Potential Role of Mood Elevating Amphetamine-like Compounds." The author suggested that certain natural constituents of spices such as nutmeg may form amphetamine compounds within the body "sufficient to elevate the mood and help provide some added Christmas cheer" during the holiday season.
This hypothetical risk was raised as far back as the Sixties in the New England Journal of Medicine in an article called "Nutmeg Intoxication." The paper pondered whether the age-old custom of adding nutmeg to eggnog arose from the psychopharmacological effects described in cases of nutmeg intoxication. Such cases evidently go back to the 1500s, when it was used as an abortifacient to induce a miscarriage and in the 1960s as a psychotropic drug.
Mental health professionals from the '60s concluded that while nutmeg "is much cheaper for use and probably less dangerous than the habit-forming heroin, it must be stated that it is not free from danger and may cause death."
The toxic dose of nutmeg is two to three teaspoons.
I assumed no one would ever come close to that amount unintentionally until I saw report in which a couple ate some pasta, collapsed, and were subsequently hospitalized. It was a big mystery until "On close questioning, the husband revealed that he had accidentally added one third of a 30g spice jar of nutmeg to the meal whilst cooking it." That's about 4 teaspoons-I don't know how they could have eaten it! I imagine the poor wife just trying to be polite.
There are also potentially toxic compounds in certain types of cinnamon. See my video Update on Cinnamon for Blood Sugar Control.
We can also overdo other healthful plant foods if we consume too much of the yellow curry spice turmeric, drink too much tea, or eat too much soy, too much seaweed, too many broccoli sprouts, and even too many raw cruciferous vegetables.
The final video in this three part series on the latest on spice safety is The Safety of Tarragon.
-Michael Greger, M.D.
Image credit: Simo ubuntu / Wikimedia Commons