Speared In The Back By An Old Friend!
Last night, two nights after my birthday, Julie and I were dining at our school’s Junior-Senior Banquet with lots of students and faculty. It is a nice event—coat and tie, lots of pictures, and good food.
In spite of the formal setting, the delicious meal was set out on a long buffet table, and I was happy to see long, bright green spears of freshly steamed asparagus. I put six or seven stalks on the side of my plate.
California begins shipping its crop nationwide in March.)
I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, Tom! You really do like asparagus. I’ve never heard so many facts per minute about a vegetable in all my life.”
The truth is I never knew any of this until doing some research this morning. I HAD TO DO SOME RESEARCH THIS MORNING! You see, that asparagus on the buffet was so good, that I had a second serving—probably another six of seven tender, young spears. I wasn’t trying to be a veggie-glutton, but the truth is we almost never have it at our house because I'm the only one in my family who likes it. Likewise, very few of the students were eating it, and I hated to see all that nice asparagus go to waste.
Shortly after the meal, I began feeling flushed—much like when I have accidentally taking niacin capsules that were not “flush free.” My head started feeling light, but I said nothing to the guests around my table. About a half hour after the banquet, Julie and I stayed with some of the faculty to box-up table decorations. My joints began to ache as if I had the flu. My head began to ache as well. I mentioned to Julie that I didn’t feel well, and went to wait in the car.
Sitting there, the symptoms increased. My skin was hot. I felt slightly short of breath and rolled down the window for cool air. What in the world was going on? How did such symptoms come on so quickly? When Julie joined me, I was able to drive home. I did not feel nauseated, but my joints and muscles ached so much I felt like Tim Conway's "old man" character as I walked from the car to our house. Within an hour, I had chills and my hands were trembling. Julie was worried, but I told her I was just going to take some "cold and flu" medicine and go to bed. When my body hit our cool, fresh sheets, the chills and tremors increased, but as the sheets warmed, my body relaxed and I slowly drifted off to sleep. In the middle of the night, I woke up expecting to feel awful, but I felt fine. Every symptom was gone. “That is weird,” I thought and went back to sleep. In the morning, I began a Google search.
Wow! There is a ton of stuff out there about asparagus and some of the common allergic reactions people have to it. Among the ones I had were “fatigue; hyperactivity; anxiety; headaches; sore muscles and joints; [and] urticaria (hives)..." which I may have had when my skin felt hot (but I did not look).
None of the articles I read mentioned my chills and tremors but I have no doubt it was all connected. Why now after 45 years did I have a reaction? The only asparagus after-effect I had ever notice before was the distinct olfactory response to methyl mercaptan, a statement that sounds sufficiently scientific to warrant no further explanation. Evidently some people, however, develop allergies to asparagus later in life.
One comment on a site said, “I too have eaten asparagus for years, ate some for lunch today and ended up in the emergency room a severe allergic reaction to it. My throat was closing, and one eye was swollen shut. No more asparagus for me.” Another person at the same site wrote: “This absolutely is a real allergy. I ate asparagus for years with no problem, but within the last 2 years, I've developed the same problem. I can eat 1 or 2 stalks of the thick, older stalks, but even a bite or two of the thinner stalks makes me break out in hives for hours. My doc told me to just stay away from asparagus forever.”
It's possible that I'm like those people who developed the allergy after mid-life, but there was something even more likely at play: I was eating young, fresh, asparagus. Many of the sites I read warned that asparagus from the early part of the growing season is much more potent when it comes to allergies. “The allergen, however, appears to be 1,2,3-Trithiane-5-carboxylic acid, a sulfur-containing growth inhibitor which appears to be present mainly in the early phase of the growth season.”
Aha! So that's what happened. I was speared in the back by my old friend. I had two servings of young, early-season asparagus with more 1,2,3-Trithiane-5-carboxylic acid than I had ever ingested in my life. It’s a very good thing I didn’t allow myself to have a third serving of the spears. Who knows what would have happened. At any rate, I’m happy to be here, and I think none of this would have happened had I had Mom’s Swiss steak, mushrooms, and canned asparagus like I used to have as a kid.
Have a wonderful week. Bon appétit!