Morning Musically-Minded, Medically-Minded, Masticators!
(Today’s post is sponsored by the letter “M”)
Over the past 600+ episodes, The Simpsons has taken us on an amazing journey involving music, science, and food to name a few concepts.
And what better way to start your week, then by discussing some of these concepts Monday morning?
So let’s get started this week by talking about a majestic animal, the fugu fish.
In the twenty fourth episode of The Simpsons, One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Bluefish (Season 02, Episode 11), when Lisa complains about the Simpsons routine mundane dinner schedule (meatloaf Thursday, pork chop Fridays), Marge recommends the family goes out to The Happy Sumo to try some sushi. While reluctant at first, Homer agrees. Once at the restaurant, Homer still skeptical, is pleasantly surprised to find he enjoys sushi. One after another, he begins ordering everything off the menu. Much to the chagrin of the waiter Akira and the apprentice chef, Homer orders fugu while the master chef is busy using his masterful hands with Mrs. Krabappel.
As the apprentice chef points out, fugu can be quite poisonous if not prepared correctly. The prognosis is not in Homer’s favour though, as Dr. Hibbert announces Homer has 24 hours to live (well, 22 hours after the hospital waiting time).
But have you ever wondered about fugu in real life?
Fugu is a pufferfish and also refers to a traditional Japanese dish served using the fish of the same name. It can be lethal due to its tetrodotoxin poison, meaning it must be carefully prepared to remove toxic parts and to avoid contaminating the meat. Fugu contains lethal amounts of tetrodotoxin in its inner organs, especially the liver, the ovaries, eyes, and skin.
Tetrodotoxin is a potent neurotoxin that acts as a sodium channel blocker. It inhibits the firing of action potentials in neurons by binding to the voltage-gated sodium channels in nerve cell membranes and blocking the passage of sodium ions into the neuron. This prevents the nervous system from carrying messages and results in preventing muscles from contracting in response to nervous stimulation.
Symptoms typically develop within 30 minutes of ingestion, but may be delayed by up to four hours. For high level doses that are fatal, symptoms are usually present within 17 minutes of ingestion. Early symptoms include paresthesia of the lips and tongue, followed by paresthesia in the extremities, hypersalivation, sweating, headache, weakness, lethargy, incoordination, tremor, paralysis, cyanosis, aphonia, dysphagia, and seizures. The gastrointestinal symptoms are often severe and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Death is usually secondary to respiratory failure/asphyxiation, as the muscles of the diaphragm fail to work. Victims of fugu poisoning may be conscious and in some cases completely lucid until shortly before death, although completely paralyzed. Death generally occurs within 4 to 6 hours. However, some victims of fugu poisoning enter a coma. If the patient survives 24 hours, recovery without any residual effects will usually occur over a few days.
While there is currently no antidote for tetrodotoxin poisoning, emptying the stomach or administering activated charcoal are options. Therapy is supportive and based on symptoms, with aggressive early airway management.
The restaurant preparation of fugu is strictly controlled by law in Japan and several other countries, and only chefs who have qualified after three or more years of rigorous training are allowed to prepare the fish. Fugu is served as sashimi and chirinabe. Some consider the liver to be the tastiest part, but it is also the most poisonous, and serving this organ in restaurants has been banned in Japan since 1984. Fugu has become one of the most celebrated and notorious dishes in Japanese cuisine.
Now that we’ve learned more about fugu, be sure to come back next week when we continue our Monday morning musings with the next episode of The Simpsons.
Were you familiar with fugu? Have you ever tried fugu? What’s your favourite Simpsons fish reference? What about your favourite Simpsons episode where a restaurant is visited? Would you ever try fugu? Sound off in the comments below. You know we love hearing from you.