Scientific Name(s): Lathyrus cicero., Lathyrus odoratus., Lathyrus sativus.
Common Name(s): Caley pea, Chickling vetch, Everlasting pea, Flat-podded vetch, Grass pea, Red pea, Singletary pea, Spanish vetchling, Sweet pea, White pea, Wild pea
Lathyrus is a widespread genus, with more than 160 species growing worldwide (both annual and perennial) and approximately 60 species identified in the United States. The genus includes the popular garden plant L. odoratus (sweet pea), grown for its scent and wide array of colors.1, 2 The legume L. sativus (grass or white pea) is cultivated for animal and human consumption, especially by subsistence farmers in areas of low rainfall.3 The vine grows up to 1 m in length, has an extensive root system, and bears seeds (ie, the peas) that are eaten or dried and used as a powder/flour.2 The edible chickpea (Cicer arietinum) is not a member of the Lathyrus genus, nor is the garden pea (Pisum spp.).1
Data from fossils indicate that Lathyrus has been cultivated since the Neolithic Age (approximately 10,200 BC to between 4,500 and 2,000 BC). The toxic effects of Lathyrus were described as early as 370 BC by Hippocrates. History records episodes of neurolathyrism, a neurological disease of humans and domestic animals caused by eating certain legumes of the genus Lathyrus, particularly during droughts or wars when consumption of the hardy pea increased.2, 4, 5 The plant is native to the Mediterranean region and has been cultivated in North America since the 1700s.2, 6
The development of low-toxin subspecies has renewed interest in the legume as a source of animal feed protein.3
L. sativus pea consists primarily of protein high in lysine but deficient in methionine, cysteine, and tryptophan; the plant is also low in polyunsaturated fatty acids and has a high starch content.3, 7 A variety of compounds with potential neurotoxic effects have been identified; see Toxicology.
Histaminase, which has antioxidant properties, has been identified in L. sativus,8 and a polygalacturonase-inhibiting protein has also been described.9 Flavonoids and triterpenoid saponins have been investigated in the L. sativus pea.7, 10 Other compounds isolated from seeds of Lathyrus spp. include lectins, tannins, phytates, divicine, amylase inhibitors, and oligosaccharides.3, 11
Uses and Pharmacology
No animal or clinical data are available regarding the use of Lathyrus for any clinical condition.
Clinical evidence is lacking to support specific dosage recommendations for Lathryus.
Pregnancy / Lactation
Information is limited. Rhinitis and asthma related to occupational exposure to L. sativus flour have been reported.19
The seeds and foliage of Lathyrus contain toxic chemicals, primarily the beta isomer of 3-N-oxalyl-L-2,3-diaminopropanoic acid (ODAP), but also alpha-amino-gamma-(isoxazolin-5-on-2-yl)-butyric acid and beta-aminopropionitrile.2 Animal studies indicate that the alpha isomer of ODAP is relatively nontoxic, and that the water-soluble beta isomer can be converted to the less toxic alpha isomer by boiling in water and draining.2, 20 Methods of cultivation suggest that concentrations of the toxic beta ODAP are affected by growth conditions, varying from 0.1% to 2.5%.21, 22
Lathyrism is a neurologic disorder (neurolathyrism) caused by chronic Lathyrus intoxication rather than acute toxicity; its effects can be reversed in the early stages by cessation of seed consumption.2, 18 Symptoms include spasticity of the lower extremities and an ataxic gait resulting from increased leg muscle tone with muscle weakness. Other symptoms may include GI distress, urinary frequency, and sexual dysfunction.2 The condition is less common in well-nourished adults and postmenopausal women.2, 18, 20 Studies in rodents and other animals suggest that some species (such as guinea pigs) are more susceptible to these toxic effects.18, 23 The mechanism of action continues to be investigated; current evidence suggests that CNS changes due to neurolathyrism include subarachnoid, pial, and subpial hemorrhage as well as demyelination in the cerebellum.18, 24
Osteolathyrism in humans, evidenced by skeletal deformities and aortic rupture, may be a manifestation of the sequelae of chronic neurolathyrism.2
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