South Asian Insider
Toxin makes litchi lethal, especially for kids: Study
Luscious litchis are usually a favourite with most, but it's not without its deadly side, literally. The summer fruit could be rich in Vitamin C but having it on an empty stomach should be a strict no-no. Also, skipping a meal after eating the fruit might not be advisable as litchi contains a toxin, called methylenecyclopropylglycine (MCPG), that can drastically bring down the blood sugar level, especially in children, making it lethal for them. Malnourishment adds to the fast deterioration of an affected person's health.
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A study by scientists from the US and India showed the dangerous combination of eating litchi on an empty stomach and skipping meal could result in acute low blood glucose level and lead to encephalopathy ,a condition that altered brain functions, causing convulsions, coma and in some cases, death.
Every year, especially during the litchi season of summer, several children in Bihar's Muzaffarpur--famous for its litchi production--die. Bengal also witnessed the deaths of 13 children in Malda in 2014, but the exact reason could not be ascertained, though people suspected litchis caused them. The deaths led doctors and scientists to find the mystery behind.
"The toxin present in litchi is also present in a fruit, called ackee. In Malda, children died of what was popularly called the `litchi syndrome', which caused some kind of encephalitis. Children are more susceptible because of their low glucose reserve. Despite the toxin, the fruit itself is not harmful. It does not have a similar effect on all," said Dr Apurba Ghosh, director at Institute of Child Health. Besides MCPG, another toxin called, hypoglycin A, is present in litchi. The two together pulls down the blood glucose level, especially in kids, and those who are malnourished. Skipping the evening meal itself is known to deplete the blood sugar level at night. So, under-nourished kids, who skip evening meals after having litchi, are the most susceptible to disruption of fatty acid metabolism.
At the time the kids died in Malda, a theory did the rounds that pesticides in unripe litchis could have caused the deaths but, scientists have refuted the argument, saying hypoglycin A and MCPG were at a much higher level in unripe fruits than the ripe ones. "Unripe litichis also have a high level of pesticides, which is also harmful. We need to find out if the toxin levels are the same for all soil condition," said Dr Amiya Hati, former director at Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine.
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