Table of Contents > Herbs & Supplements > Ciguatera Print



Related terms

Related Terms
  • Benthic microorganism, C-CTX-1, C-CTX-2, chronic ciguatera fish poisoning (CCFP), ciguatera-related toxin maitotoxin (MTX), ciguatoxic barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), ciguatoxin, ciguatoxin CTX3C, ciguatoxin-1, CTX3C, dinoflagellates, Gambierdiscus toxicus, ichthyosarcotoxic disease, ichthyosarcotoxism, marine dinoflagellates, P-CTX-1.

  • Ciguatera fish poisoning (or ciguatera) is caused by eating fish that contain toxins produced by the marine dinoflagellate microalga Gambierdiscus toxicus.
  • Ciguatera causes gastrointestinal, neurological, and cardiovascular symptoms. Signs and symptoms vary widely, but ciguatera usually presents as gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, accompanied by neurologic complaints, shortly after the ingestion of fish containing the toxins. Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning may persist for months or years.
  • Epidemics are most common along tropical and subtropical coasts and usually involve the ingestion of large carnivorous fish. Ciguatera toxins account for over half of fish-related poisonings in the United States. The toxins are odorless and tasteless. Fish known to have carried ciguatera toxins include barracuda, black grouper, blackfin snapper, cubera snapper, dog snapper, greater amberjack, hogfish, horse-eye jack, king mackerel, and yellowfin grouper.
  • Estimates place the annual number of ciguatera cases at 20,000 worldwide.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *
* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)

Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Ciguatera is caused by a toxin and is not for therapeutic use.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Avoid ingesting ciguatera toxin-containing fish in any amount. Caution is advised with ingesting certain tropical fish, which may contain the toxins. Ciguatera toxins accumulate in fish and, when consumed by humans, may cause moderate-to-severe gastrointestinal effects, as well as neurological and cardiovascular symptoms. Ciguatera is rarely lethal.
  • Ciguatera fish poisoning may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that lower blood pressure.
  • Toxic effects of ciguatera poisoning include gastroenteritis (inflammation of the digestive tract). Ciguatera poisoning should be considered in the diagnosis of acute gastroenteritis.
  • Transfer of ciguatera toxins through ejaculation during sexual intercourse has been reported.
  • Ciguatera poisoning may cause abdominal cramps; acute respiratory distress; agitation (irritation); anxiety; bronchospasm; burning mouth syndrome; chills; chronic fatigue syndrome; coma; dental pain; diarrhea; difficulty speaking or swallowing; dry mouth; eye pain; flushing; hallucinations; heightened pain sensing and tiredness; hives; hypersalivation (excessive saliva production); impairment of any of the senses; itching of the skin and vulva; joint pain; malaise, metallic taste; movement disorder; muscle cramps, inflammation, pain, spasm, twitching, and weakness; nervousness; numbness; pain from normally innocuous cold stimuli; painful ejaculation; psychiatric disorders; rapid or slow heartbeat; reduced reflexes; reversal of cold and hot temperature sensing; seizures; septic shock and death; shortness of breath; skin conditions; sweating; tingling; tremors; unsteadiness; vertigo; visual disturbances, including blurred vision; and vomiting.
  • Ciguatera is caused by toxins, and reports of toxicity are more common than reports of allergy. Toxicity manifests as cardiovascular, neurological, and gastrointestinal symptoms, which are typically distinct from allergic reactions to fish.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • Avoid ingesting ciguatera toxin-contaminated fish during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Adverse effects in newborns have been reported in some, but not most, cases. Possible adverse effects on breast milk have been reported.

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

  1. Arcila-Herrera H, Castello-Navarrete A, Mendoza-Ayora J, et al. [Ten cases of Ciguatera fish poisoning in Yucatan]. Rev Invest Clin 1998;50(2):149-152.
  2. Asaeda G. The transport of ciguatoxin: a case report. J Emerg Med 2001;20(3):263-265.
  3. Barton ED, Tanner P, Turchen SG, et al. Ciguatera fish poisoning. A southern California epidemic. West J Med 1995;163(1):31-35.
  4. Calvert GM, Hryhorczuk DO, Leikin JB. Treatment of ciguatera fish poisoning with amitriptyline and nifedipine. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1987;25(5):423-428.
  5. Dalzell P. Ciguatera fish poisoning and fisheries development in the South Pacific Region. Bull Soc Pathol Exot 1992;85(5 Pt 2):435-444.
  6. DeFusco DJ, O'Dowd P, Hokama Y, et al. Coma due to ciguatera poisoning in Rhode Island. Am J Med 1993;95(2):240-243.
  7. de Haro L, Pommier P, Valli M. Emergence of imported ciguatera in Europe: report of 18 cases at the Poison Control Centre of Marseille. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 2003;41(7):927-930.
  8. Hashmi MA, Sorokin JJ, Levine SM. Ciguatera fish poisoning. N J Med 1989;86(6):469-471.
  9. Heir GM. Ciguatera neurotoxin poisoning mimicking burning mouth syndrome. Quintessence Int 2005;36(7-8):547-550.
  10. Lewis RJ. Socioeconomic impacts and management ciguatera in the Pacific. Bull Soc Pathol Exot 1992;85(5 Pt 2):427-434.
  11. Lipp EK, Rose JB. The role of seafood in foodborne diseases in the United States of America. Rev Sci Tech 1997;16(2):620-640.
  12. Lueger A, Scherr D, Lang B, et al. [Marine toxins]. Wien Med Wochenschr 1999;151(5-6):122-125.
  13. Park DL. Evolution of methods for assessing ciguatera toxins in fish. Rev Environ Contam Toxicol 1994;136:1-20.
  14. Ting JY, Brown AF. Ciguatera poisoning: a global issue with common management problems. Eur J Emerg Med 2001;8(4):295-300.
  15. Zlotnick BA, Hintz S, Park DL, et al. Ciguatera poisoning after ingestion of imported jellyfish: diagnostic application of serum immunoassay. Wilderness Environ Med 1995;6(3):288-294.

  • Not applicable.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

Search Site