Recipes

Who Says Cookbooks Can't Solve Medical Mysteries?

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I recently got this email from a reader and thought it was too good not to share. I’ve received every kind of comment imaginable (or so I thought) about my books over the years, but never one like this…

Subject: A different sort of use for one of your cookbooks

Message: In 1994 my husband and I spent a few days on Cozumel island in the Yucatan. Several days into the trip I developed severe stomach cramps that didn't seem to be the usual "Montezuma's revenge." Then I began to itch, inside and out. We consulted a local doctor who diagnosed some sort of allergic reaction, and injected an antihistamine. We chatted with the doctor's girlfriend, who asked what I had eaten. My husband and I told her we had mostly eaten the same things, and then mentioned that I had eaten barracuda at a local restaurant. "You ate barracuda?" she asked, horrified. She told us that locals didn't eat barracuda. "But it was served in a restaurant!" 

We returned to Southern California, and I still had severe itching as well as leg cramps, and my hands were extremely sensitive to cold. Of course this was before the internet era, so there was no easy way to research my mystery ailment. I had your book "Fish," and looked at the entry for barracuda, and found my first mention of ciguatoxin and ciguatera poisoning. Bingo!

As the symptoms persisted, I visited my generic primary care physician consulting group. The doctor had never heard of this, but I took your book along, and showed her the entry on barracuda. After reading it she said, "but it doesn't say how to treat it."

How thoughtless of you not to include treatment information!

Later I consulted a tropical medicine specialist who hadn't heard of it either, but the eventual consensus was that there really isn't any way to treat it. I continued to have some symptoms for about six months, and I'm now really careful about eating large fish when I visit tropical beaches. It was not an enjoyable experience, but it has provided an amusing anecdote for many years.

Diet & HealthMark Bittman