What Is Fabism?
Fabism, also called favism, is a disease characterized by the deficiency of the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), a substance present in all cells of the body.
The main function of this enzyme is to protect and prolong the life of red blood cells. If there are smaller amounts of it than normal, it causes the half-life of red blood cells or erythrocytes to decrease and destroy them.
In some cases, elimination occurs quicker. There is a greater risk when the body is exposed to:
- Certain foods such as lima beans or fava beans – hence the name Favism – and its derivatives. For this reason, people call favism the “bean’s disease.”
- Inhalation of pollen from the same plant.
- Some drugs.
- Infections like hepatitis, pneumonia.
- Excessive physical exercise.
- Decompensated diabetes.
Evolution of the disease
The rapid destruction of erythrocytes by any of the aforementioned triggers causes the sudden onset of acute anemic hemolytic crises. This clinical scenario is short-lived. It triggers between 24 to 48 hours after consuming the beans.
Furthermore, the severity of these crises and the lack of oxygen will depend on the degree and evolution of the deficit of the G6PD enzyme in the person’s body.
Fabism is a genetic disorder and has a pattern of inheritance linked to the X chromosome. Consequently, the mother is only an asymptomatic carrier and her sons will typically show symptoms of the disease. As a result, it’s much more common in men.
Additionally, this disease is frequent in certain geographical areas. We usually see it in people from North Africa and the Mediterranean. It affects about 400 million people.
In many cases, the disorder goes unnoticed because it activates after the consumption of specific substances. The disorder relates to hypersensitivity and toxicity due to the presence of harmful agents in the body.
Symptoms of fabism
The anemic outbreaks, common in fabism, cause these signs:
- Abdominal or lumbar pain.
- Dark urine or rosacea.
- Tiredness and weakness with no explainable cause.
- A strong headache.
- Yellowish eyes and/or skin (jaundice).
- Unbridled crying in younger children.
- Breathing difficulties.
The intensity of the symptoms is greater in children than in adults. Moreover, it’s important to observe if the signs appear after ingesting a specific meal.
“This clinical scenario is short-lived. It triggers between 24 to 48 hours after consuming the beans.”
Fabism is a disease that has no cure or specific treatment. In severe cases of anemia, they generally perform hospital admissions and blood transfusions until achieving the child’s stability. With these actions, recovery is usually spontaneous.
On occasions, medication can relieve some of the symptoms and prevent complications. Also, the use of oxygen therapy and adequate rest is advisable, if possible, and for a better recovery.
In any of these scenarios, the best advice is that the relatives of the affected party seek counsel in regards to the disease and its triggers in order to prevent future hemolytic symptoms. These health measures rely on food intake, so thankfully, the patient could lead a completely normal life.
To ensure a healthy and normal lifestyle, we recommend that parents of children affected by this condition pay special attention to certain areas of their lives:
- Feeding: don’t allow the consumption of fava beans in any of its derivatives or forms, whether raw, fresh, or cooked. Nor is it advisable to consume cheese or milk from goats that feed on these beans.
- In fact, it’s best not to eat meat from animals that feed on these beans.
- Finally, we recommend that children avoid physical exposure to said plant.
- Medications: it will be necessary to ask your medical specialist for the complete list of drugs that could trigger an outbreak to avoid them; among others, analgesics, antibiotics, and commonly used drugs.
- Periodic medical check-ups are recommended, even for common infection symptoms.
- Other substances: it’s important to avoid exposing children to fertilizers or pesticides that could be toxic to bone marrow. Additionally, we must analyze the presence of common hemotoxic substances in everyday life and eliminate them.
You can prevent a fabism outbreak with these precautions. As we pointed out earlier, with the right information and preventative measures, the patient can lead a totally normal life.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Luzzatto L, Arese P. Favism and Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency. N Engl J Med. 2018 Jan 4;378(1):60-71.
- Minucci A, Onori ME, Mazzuccato G, Urbani A, Capoluongo E. Molecular basis of favism triggered by ingestion of frozen pumpkin cross-contaminated with fava beans. Clin Biochem. 2019 Jul;69:45-47.