101 Ciguatera Poisoning
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This is an audio interview with Levi ‘Turbo’ Brown about his experience with ciguatera poisoning after eating some affected fish from North Queensland. Turbo developed symptoms shortly after arriving home and eating a Parrot fish over 2 nights. He joined me after spending 3 weeks off work, sick at home and spending his time doing extensive research into Ciguatera poisoning. In this interview he shares a fair bit about what he has learned from his experience and research. We talk about avoiding contracting the illness, treating and dealing with symptoms along with further information about where to find out more and join others dealing with ciguatera poisoning.
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101: Ciguatera Poisoning Interview Times Quick-Guide
2:00 What is ciguatera poisoning?
Ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) is a form of food poisoning caused by the consumption of fish that have accumulated a type of sodium channel activator toxin called ciguatoxins (CTXs). CTX are produced by dinoflagellates of the genus Gambierdiscus in warm tropical waters. These dinoflagellates are found on algae and coral and are consumed by herbivorous fish species. As these species are preyed upon by larger predatory species the toxin can accumulate in them to the point where they are toxic to humans. This process is called biomagnification. CFP (ciguatera food poisoning) affects more than 50 000 people each year and as yet there is no known cure and treatment is usually for symptom relief.
4:00 In what parts of the world do people come into contact with ciguatera?
6:50 What are the symptoms?
8:30 Turbos personal experience with cig. From how he contracted it to whimpering with me in the studio about the rough symptoms.
14:40 How long does ciguatera poisoning last?
16:00 Is ciguatera often misdiagnosed? the story of a guy eating an 80lb grouper in the U.S
19:00 What are the potential treatments?
Activated charcoal for the digestive system immediately after symptoms appear.
Some Japanese researchers are working on Ciguatera prevention and treatment. Further information available here
Home Remedies include; Octopus Bush which is high in Rosmeric Acid. Rosemary and Basil are both seen as potentially curative. Lots of water to give your body every chance to flush the toxin from your system is also advised.
No Go Foods/Drinks include; Alcohol, all seafood, nuts, coffee and other stimulants.
26:00 Prevention is the best cure.
University of Florida has some good information on how to avoid it but the main points are;
- Avoid eating tropical reef fish in areas known to contain the toxin (easier said than done)
- Eat small portions. Take the fish home and slice yourself of a piece between 50-100 grams to eat. If no symptoms are experienced in the 24 hours following ingesting you know the fish has a better chance of containing none to relatively small amounts of the toxin.
- Eat smaller fish (although this is not fool-proof)
- Avoid the Roe and Viscera of the fish (contains higher amounts of the toxin)
- Avoid taking fish from areas that have undergone significant habitat disturbance
- Avoid fish from the wind ward side of oceanic islands
- Avoid moray eels (some people eat them in parts of the world) and other large predatory fish in at risk areas
- If hunting in a new area ask the locals what they avoid.
31:45 Can you avoid the worst of it by leaving 3-4 mm of flesh closest to the skin? This comes anecdotally from a spearfishing trip with mates (I can’t remember who said it)
36:00 Shout Outs – Thanks for reaching out to us! Feedback is always welcome
- Dane Stevens in Timor
- We got interviewed on the Half Hour Intern about all things spearfishing, you can check it out here
- Jesse Hall a truck driving NovaCastrian
- Grant Laidlaw from Scotland
- Latest subscribers to the Noob Spearo Newsletter; Pj Kotzé from South Africa, Julian Blair & Corey Lowrey from Arkansas.
38:00 Potential Help’s for people dealing with Ciguatera Poisoning
Ketogenic (Paleo style) Diet. Turbo believes that this has helped significantly ease the discomfort and perhaps accelerate the recovery process. After listening to this interview about the Ketogenic diet you might want to give it a try. For an overview of the Keto Diet check this post out | this book presents a practical plan for giving Keto a trial. Read this to know more about exercising on a keto diet.
Octopus Bush. Turbo has discovered further evidence that it works and he shares about how people in Australia can find some for themselves. Please take caution with identification. Here is the link for known Australian occurrences of the Octopus Bush Locations
Vitamin B12. Not mentioned in the show but worth investigation [Book here about B12] [Supplement here but consider with medical advice]
Facebook Support Group for Ciguatera Sufferers. People on here discuss their experiences and the latest in helpful advice about all things Ciguatera. Group Here
Drugs that may help to ease symptoms
Keep a log book for tracking symptoms, food and everything else. Check out this one, custom made for people dealing with ciguatera
Turbos Advice after research and 3-4 weeks experiencing a fairly severe case of ciguatera poisoning.
“Dont dwell to much on it because there are some horror stories and more often than not your experience will not be as dramatic”
If you have an experience or some advice with ciguatera we would love to hear about it. Please share your story in the comments
Other tips that have been passed on;
- Touch uncooked flesh to your tongue. If it goes tangy and numb (foul taste) then its no good. Tip from a spearo on Northern Freediver via commercial fisherman.
Thank you for sharing this, I am currently going through this am relieved that I might not have to suffer forever with it. Had barracuda on the 26th of April and didn’t get symptoms then I had it on the 1st of May and got major nervous symptoms, I didn’t connect my pain with the fish so then on the 6th when I had barracuda again that was it, my joints through out my body were swollen and red, pain everywhere I couldn’t even walk or open a bottle of water. Skin felt so hot. Went to emergency and all my blood work was good that when I figured out it was from ciguatera. 2 weeks in pain is less but still have pain on bending, still have swollen joints. My right thigh was numb for one whole day then the next it was fine but my left got numb. Really weird symptoms I just can’t wait till I feel normal again and am able to move like a normal person. This experience has been horrific!!!
So grateful for this bc I think I currently have ciguatera and have been so concerned about what this is! My family and I ate a grouper that had been frozen about 10-days ago in the Bahamas. I woke up the next morning with my right hand swollen and a red rash in between my fingers with a burning sensation (feels like icy hot) on said hand. Additionally the soles of my feet had a strange very hot / burning sensation. Later that day, my tongue started feeling strange and developed this bizarre feeling where it feels like the tip of it has been burnt on something hot like soup or tea. I developed some blisters on the inside of my fingers on my right hand on day 2/3 that have since scabbed. The burning soles of my feet sensation seems to only flare up at night but that has subsided a good amount. I also have gnarly muscle fatigue (predominantly in my thighs) and at night, when I lay back in bed after going to the bathroom, it takes a few minutes for my muscles to settle down after feeling completely exhausted. I went to a dermatologist on Day 3 and they had no idea. They didn’t think it was hand, foot and mouth disease and thought it might be a bite or reaction and said hopefully it would clear up on its own and prescribed me a cortisol cream to rub on effected areas. Then on day 5 I developed cramps in my stomach, followed by diarrhea which cleared up in a day or two. I am now on Day 9 and the symptoms don’t really seem to be improving drastically which is unsettling. The swelling on my right hand has gone down and some of the redness but looks like some blisters might be forming on index finger… Still feels like there is icy hot on both hands but the intensity varies / fades in and out. That said, my hands are quite sensitive to temperature (especially cold, so washing hands under cold water is very uncomfortable). My tongue still feels like it is burnt and muscle fatigue remains gnarly (especially at night). I called a hospital in the Bahamas who said they didn’t know at first, but when I mentioned Ciguatera, they said it very well could be. They recommended seeing an infectious disease doctor which I am in a few days. I am a very healthy and active 26-year-old and what’s interesting is that out of the 8 members who ate the grouper, I have the most severe symptoms. A few others have had fatigue, muscle aches and itchiness that are still persisting (which makes me think even more that it’s Ciguatera from this Grouper) but I think that I ate the most of the grouper so I wonder if that’s why I am having the most severe symptoms? I have never had such a bizarre combination of symptoms and for having them over a week without much reprieve is extremely frustrating. That said, I am hoping it is ciguatera to get some clarity / closure and REALLY hope that these symptoms subside ASAP. Also, I am REALLY hoping that I can go back to eating fish, drinking coffee, alcohol, etc. (which I have been abstaining from). How long did your symptoms last? Did it go away out of nowhere or did it slowly fade and if so, at what point did it start to fade? Have you returned to your normal diet (including coffee, fish, alcohol, etc.?) Did you develop any of these rashes / sensations that I mentioned? Any and all other tips, insights, etc. are MUCH appreciated!!!
Hey Riley, Turbo hasn’t had much to do with Noob Spearo for a while but from memory, he had fairly severe fatigue + other symptoms for 2-4 weeks and then symptoms gradually declined although were noticeable for 3 months or so. He wrote this a bit later https://www.noobspearo.com/ciguatera-poisoning-staying-positive/.
I have a had a light bout myself lasting about 2 weeks and then it came good. If you can, Sauna’s are great IMO and can play a role in flushing (or binding/destroying the stuff – I’m not sue of the physiological mechanism) it from your body.
Stay strong mate! – Shrek
thank you so much for the response! Can’t tell you how much I appreciate having a sense of understanding from others who have gone through this. Sure enough, a team of toxicologists diagnosed me with Ciguatera poisoning this week in New York City. They hope my symptoms will subside in the coming weeks. While it is unsettling being diagnosed with ciguatera because of how little it has been studied in the grand scheme of things, not having a “cure”, etc. I was very impressed with all of the doctors I met with. One of the head toxicologists told me that all of NYC toxicology has taken a vested interest in my case because of its rarity and that they are there for me, which put me more at ease and made me feel looked after. That said, they prescribed me with amitriptyline (like Turbo if I remember correctly) and advised me to stay off the booze, nuts, caffeine and fish for 3-6 months aka no fun — as these substances have been shown to flare symptoms. That said, one of the other doctors said that everyone is different so some things might make someone react more than others. Basically, listen to your body and if something upsets it and symptoms flare, maybe stay away from it a bit longer. That said, I plan on experimenting with veganism in terms of diets / eating basic whole foods (last night I had something cross contaminated with nuts and sure enough my symptoms seemed to flare a bit which was disheartening but part of the learning process.) Long story long, I appreciate you all helping spread the word! I’m also definitely going to try and hit regular saunas, as I am a big fan of them regardless of ciguatera. I’ll keep this forum posted as my symptoms hopefully improve in the coming weeks.
Please do Riley and maybe when you are 100% better, we can do a podcast or blogpost about your experience! thanks for reaching out:) – Shrek
Hi, Riley, I contracted ciguatera almost 2 weeks ago in the Bahamas after eating grouper at the four seasons Ocean club one night. Your symptoms are almost exactly like mine and I’m wondering how you’re feeling now? Every day bring some new weird symptoms though my worst one was itching which finally went away three days ago. Are you resuming normal life? Normal diet? Can you have a glass of wine? Hoping I’m over the worst of it . Thanks, Leanna
Omg! I just got it this week from eating the same thing at the same four seasons! Are you all better? I’m miserable.