A Woman Developed "Broken Heart Syndrome" After Eating Too Much Wasabi
Apparently she'd mistaken the wasabi for avocado.
At first glance, it could be easy to confuse avocado and wasabi. They're both a similar shade of green with a creamy texture, and they both make delicious additions to many of your favorite foods, especially sushi.
But that's where the similarities end, especially given avocado's mild taste and wasabi's signature spiciness, which makes it much more difficult to safely enjoy in large quantities.
In fact, a 60-year-old woman recently ended up in the hospital with a heart condition called takotsubo cardiomyopathy—also known as "broken heart syndrome"—after eating too much wasabi she'd mistaken for avocado, according to a case study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Shortly after eating the wasabi at a wedding, the unnamed woman felt a "sudden pressure" in her chest and arms that lasted for a few hours, New York Post reports. Apparently she chose not to leave the wedding, but the next day, she felt "weakness and general discomfort," which led her to go to the ER.
Thankfully, she made a full recovery after receiving treatment for a month at a cardiac rehabilitation center. But it's believed that eating the "unusually large" amount of wasabi contributed to her heart condition. (Related: Is It Possible to Eat Too Much Avocado?)
What Is "Broken Heart Syndrome"?
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or "broken heart syndrome," is a condition that weakens the heart's left ventricle, aka one of the four chambers through which blood travels to help pump oxygenated blood throughout the body, according to Harvard Health. It's estimated that of the 1.2 million people in the U.S. who experience a myocardial infarction (any condition in which blood supply to the heart is interrupted), about 1 percent (or 12,000 people) may develop broken heart syndrome, according to Cleveland Clinic.
The condition tends to be more common in older women, as research shows a link between broken heart syndrome and reduced estrogen during menopause. It typically happens after "sudden intense emotional or physical stress," per the BMJ's report, and sufferers reportedly experience similar symptoms to a heart attack, including chest pain and shortness of breath. (Related: The Real Risk of Heart Attack During Endurance Exercise)
In addition to being referred to as broken heart syndrome, the condition is also sometimes called "stress-induced cardiomyopathy," with many falling ill after an accident, unexpected loss, or even from acute fears like a surprise party or public speaking. The exact cause of the condition is unknown, but it's believed that surging stress hormones "stun" the heart, preventing the left ventricle from contracting normally. (Related: This Woman Thought She Had Anxiety, But It Was Actually a Rare Heart Defect)
Though the condition certainly sounds serious, most people recover quickly and return to full health in a matter of months. Treatment usually includes medication like ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure, beta-blockers to slow the heart rate, and anti-anxiety medicine to manage stress, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Should You Stop Eating Wasabi?
The BMJ report notes that this is the first known case of broken heart syndrome attributed to wasabi consumption.
In other words, wasabi is considered safe to eat, as long as you're not eating spoonfuls of the stuff at a time. In fact, the Japanese horseradish has many health benefits: Researchers from McGill University recently found that the spicy green paste contains antimicrobial properties that can help protect you from bacteria like E. coli. Plus, a 2006 Japanese study found that wasabi might help to prevent bone loss, which can lead to conditions like osteoporosis. (Related: The Healthiest Sushi Rolls to Order)
While that's good news for your sushi nights, it's never a bad idea to enjoy spicy foods in moderation—and, of course, to report any troubling symptoms to your doctor right away.