Coumarin-derived warfarin was first used as a poison for vermin. It causes death by making the rat bleed to death internally- especially it’s brain- so it dies of an internal explosion! Errgghhh!!
The anti-clotting properties of processed coumarin were discovered from investigating the illness and death of cattle which had eaten moldy sweet clover. In the silage heap or hayshed, Sweet Clover can be fermented by moulds to become the active drug, di-coumarol, common name warfarin and various brand names such as: Coumadin, Jantoven, Marevan, Lawarin, and Waran.
Farmers and vets discovered that only the cattle who ate mouldy sweet clover, rather than fresh, came down with Sweet Clover Disease. Vets noted that some cattle nearly bled to death from minor surgery, such as castration and others became very ill, some spontaneously hemorrhaging, after eating feeds based on this sweet-scented clover. Scientists experimented with sweet clover extracts and various moulds in the University of Wisconsin laboratories until they managed to manufacture the substance that made the cattle sick. They named it ‘warfarin’ after their research fund, WARF, for Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
Warfarin has become a very popular drug since introduced in the 1950s and only during the last decade have chemists synthesised some alternatives. The new anti-coagulants obviously must have warfarin’s useful properties, but they are considered to be a lot safer than the original because they aren’t as easy to overdose on. Warfarin is quite a bother for people using it, and their healthcare workers, because the level in their blood must be kept within a narrow range, If not, you will either clot (and then have a blockage causing a heart attack or brain stroke) or bleed internally (you could bleed into your brain, giving you a different type of stroke, or your lungs might bleed). If you are on warfarin you will either attend a clinic where your clotting rate is measured regularly or you will test yourself frequently at home.
The newer anti-clotting drugs are rather expensive and are not used widely yet. Some people might have heard of Dabigatrin, Ximelagatran, Fondaparinux and Idraparinux. Doctors are hoping that the new drugs will replace warfarin but it depends on whether they have only minor side effects or they do bad things to your liver.
I’m sure no one else ever blogs about this sort of stuff, but warfarin just happens to be one of the drugs I am researching for my Masters in Public Health dissertation AT THIS VERY MOMENT! So when I saw the ingredients of my new hand cream listed coumarin I thought- aha, here’s something I might need to know something about. And off I went!
By the way, the coumarin in handcream and perfumes is NOT harmful. Coumarin is merely a sweet-smelling substance that occurs in several plants including clover and tonka bean. The blood-thinning properties only occur from processing in a silage heap or, preferably, a laboratory. So don’t throw away your lovely smellies yet!