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The women did not know each other and did not get their pumpkin from the same seller. However, both developed a so-called cucurbit poisoning or "toxic squash syndrome," according to a recent report on the two cases published in the journal JAMA Dermatology on March 28.
In one of the cases a woman and her family developed symptoms of food poisoning – nausea, vomiting and diarrhea – hours after eating a bitter-tasting pumpkin soup. About a week later, the woman experienced significant hair loss affecting a large part of her scalp, but none of her family lost her hair.
In the second case, another woman had heavy vomiting about an hour after the bitter meal – groping squash, but no one who ate the vegetables became ill. About three weeks later, she lost a lot of hair from her head as well as from her armpits and pubic area.
It turns out that some members of the Cucurbitaceae family – including pumpkins, squash, melons, and cucumbers – produce a group of chemicals known as cucurbitacins. Not only do these chemicals taste bitter, but they can also have toxic effects on human cells.
Usually, farmers cultivate these plants to produce little or no cucurbitacines because people do not like the bitter taste. But in some situations, such as unintentional cross-pollination of plants or when plants grow in the wild, some varieties may contain high concentrations of the chemicals. This produces a potentially toxic, bitter-tasting, inedible food.
The problem, however, is that the bitter-tasting vegetables are no different from a normal one, and a person can not distinguish the difference until they have taken a bite
Toxic Squash Syndrome
Although it is rare other cases of cucurbit poisoning have been described in the medical literature; In these cases, people developed food poisoning after eating bitter-tasting pumpkin, zucchini and other pumpkins, the new report says. But these are the first two reported cases that combine the consumption of bitter-tasting pumpkins with hair loss, according to the author of the case report. Philippe Assouly, dermatologist at Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris.
Assouly wrote that he suspects that toxic compounds in the plant have a similar effect on hair follicles as some chemotherapeutic agents, which can lead to temporary hair loss.
But because hair loss is a completely new observation that may be associated with exposure to cucurbitacin, this is not the case. Zane Horowitz, a toxicologist and medical director of the Oregon Poison Center in Portland, who was not involved in the case, why it happened in these cases. Cucurbit poisoning is a very rare syndrome, and the toxin involved has not been well studied, Horowitz noted.
In 2012, emergency physicians at Oregon Health & Science University saw two patients with a toxic squash syndrome who had both eaten squash from a home garden. The doctors then reviewed the records of the poison centers in Oregon and Washington and identified about 17 more cases of cucurbit poisoning that had occurred over a 12-year period.
In a recent review published in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology in January 2018, a French poison center reported more than 350 cases of foodborne illness that coincided with bitter-tasting squash between 2012 and 2016. About 56 percent of these were pumpkins bought in a store, and in 26 percent of the cases, the vegetables came from a home garden, according to the results.
Squash lovers need to be aware that if they taste one of these popular vegetables tastes bitter, they should stop eating it immediately, Horowitz said to Live Science. In all of these case reports, it is clear that high concentrations of the toxin make vegetables taste bitter, and these high levels of toxin can put a person at the highest risk for symptoms, he said. As for the two French women who lost their food hair, the hair on the woman's head that ate the pumpkin soup had regrown less than 1 inch (2 cm) two months after the incident. The second woman had short hair, over 2 inches (6 cm), regrowth in most areas of her scalp six months later.