Don't eat bitter pumpkin, study warns after women lose hair

May 25, 2018
French dermatologist Philippe Assouly described two unusual cases highlighting a previously unknown "toxic association of alopecia (hair loss) with a common plant (family)," which includes squashes, gourds, and pumpkins

A doctor warned Friday that bitter-tasting pumpkins and squashes can contain potent toxins, after two women were poisoned by their dinners and lost most of their hair.

French dermatologist Philippe Assouly described the two unusual cases in a , highlighting a previously unknown "toxic association of alopecia ( ) with a common plant".

The plant family in question are cucurbits and include squashes, gourds, and pumpkins.

In the first case, a woman in France suffered nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, which started soon after she ate a bitter-tasting pumpkin soup.

The symptoms lasted for about a day. Then a week later, she started losing hair from her scalp and pubis.

"The meal had been shared with her family, who had eaten less of the soup than she had, and they experienced symptoms of food but no hair loss," Assouly wrote in the JAMA Dermatology.

A second woman experienced with severe vomiting after a meal that included squash. Other diners had skipped the squash because it tasted bitter.

"About three weeks later, the patient experienced substantial hair loss on her head as well as severe alopecia on the armpits and pubic region," the doctor said.

Cucurbits can contain cucurbitacin, a toxic compound that gives off a bitter taste.

The bitterness is bred out of domesticated cucurbits. But sometimes insects moving from one field to another cross-pollinate a cultivated plant with a wild or ornamental one.

"Bitterness in a squash should serve as a warning," Assouly told AFP. "One should not force a child to finish it."

Three years ago, a German died of cucurbitacin poisoning after eating a courgette stew, the doctor said.

These are the first known cases of due to cucurbit poisoning.

Explore further: Pattern hair loss could be due to gut bacteria

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