Frequently (and not so frequently) Asked Questions
BRIEF: Could you send me some information about swainsonine?
I would greatly appreciate any pertinent information you could send me about swainsonine. I am curious about the uses of alkaloids as "weight-loss" agents. It is my understanding that all alkaloids require a body to metabolize fats and proteins in order to flush out the toxin. I am wondering if there is a way to reduce the more dangerous side effects of some alkaloids while harboring an alkaloid's ability to "burn" available body mass.
It is not clear from your note if you want information on swainsonine itself or plants and herbs that have it. In either case, this is not a poison that you would want to take voluntarily very often or in very large doses, if at all. Swainsonine is the alkaloid that put the "loco" in locoweed. I causes notorious neurological problems in livestock that eat enough of it, as well as abortion, birth defects and deranged immune responses (apparent increased susceptibility to infection). Swainsonine inhibits a mannosidase, an enzyme needed to finish breaking down complex carbohydrates. Without alpha-mannosidase, mannose builds up in cells, including nerve cells and in time, impairs their function. If ingestion of Astragulus or Swainsonia persists, the nerve damge is permanent, and death can follow. What is the context of this request? Is someone proposing this for weight loss? And what is this business about metabolizing fat and protein? As an aside, alkaloids are a very large, diverse group of thousands and thousands of known compounds. It is difficult to generalize about their metabolism or their effects on metabolism. They are organic (in the sense that they are carbon-based) compounds that tend to be basic, contain nitrogen and have a ring or two (or more) in their structure. Caffeine, nicotine, morphine, quinine, and swainsonine are all alkaloids.