Toxicology Facts

Jequirity beans

The jequirity bean (Abrus precatorius)

Jequirity beans (Abrus precatorius) are grown for ornamental uses such as for beads in necklaces, and other types of jewellery, beads on costumes, and for other decorative purposes. Jequirity beans are also called rosary beads and are referred to by other colloquial names. The beans are orange to red in colour with black colouring on one end. Jequirity beans contain abrin, a toxic type of albumin, similar to the albumin ricin, in castor beans. Note that we have the protein albumin in our body and it is used as a protein store and for transporting other substances. Ricin is a different albumin, and is extremely dangerous. The consumption of only one jequirity bean can be fatal. The bean usually has to be chewed to release the abrin. However, seed coatings may not be intact and bacterial digestion may cause release of albin. Abrin, in extremely small amounts causes hemolysis (breakdown) and agglutination (clotting) of red blood cells. Chewing castor beans and swallowing guarantees release of ricin. Parents should be very careful having these "attractive" ornamental beads around chidren. Babies find these colours interesting and like to put them in their mouths. It is surprising how little many parents know about the danger of jequirity beans and others such as castor beans and fava beans. You can go to many markets and buy cheap necklaces with these beans (rosary beads, etc). Of course, they are not harmful unless consumed. However, one such be aware, since children can easily pull beans off and ingest them. Adults should also be careful, as sometimes we unknowingly put objects in our mouths as well. I've seen a few people unawaringly "sucking" on their castor bean or jequirity bean necklaces. The problem here is if any of the seed coatings on the beans are damaged, ricin or abrin in small amounts could theoretically get into the mouth and hence, into the metabolism. Pathological findings in those unfortunate enough to be poisoned by castor beans are haemolysis, GI oedema, and kidney damage.

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