Are Fava Beans Bad For You? Legumes Linked To Less Red Blood Cells In People With This Genetic Disorder

We eat beans to get our protein and other nutrients, like fiber and antioxidants. In particular, fava beans, also known as broad beans, are dense with nutrition, and may aid in healing a variety of ailments. But, eating a lot of this legume can result in more than just bloating and flatulence — in severe cases, it can lead to death.

Fava beans In severe cases, eating copious amounts of fava beans can kill people with this genetic disorder. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

In SciShow's video, "Why Fava Beans Can Kill You," host Hank Green explains fava beans can be dangerous for people with the genetic disorder glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, or G6PD. The most common medical issue associated with G6PD is hemolytic anemia, which is when red blood cells are rapidly broken down. Fava beans can cause those with G6PD to experience fatigue, shortness of breath, gallstones, jaundice, and also, occasionally, death.

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This reaction can also occur by just inhaling the pollen of the fava bean plant, known as favism. Low levels of G6PD is linked to favism, with factors like how many beans we've eaten; the severity of our G6PD deficiency; and other things related to our personal health and environment influencing the reaction. Compounds in fava beans, when digested, can boost the production of reactive oxygen species. This means there are even more threatening molecules in the body, and without G6PD enzyme, red blood cells sustain a lot of damage, which prompts hemolytic anemia.

Currently, there is no treatment for G6PD deficiency, although it's the most common enzyme defect humans have. However, people avoid complications by getting vaccinated, and by avoiding triggers like fava beans. Those with mild cases may be able to eat certain legumes, but consumption could be significantly reduced.

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