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Mystery Behind The Children’s Death in Bihar: Toxins in Litchi

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Highlights
  • In 2014, many children in Muzaffarpur, Bihar died after eating litchis but the reason was unknown.
  • Litchi contains toxins which may inhibits the body’s ability to synthesize glucose, leading to low blood glucose levels.
  • It was found that the children did not have an evening meal which can trigger acute encephalopathy, seizures, coma, and death in many cases.

Mystery Behind The Children’s Death in Bihar: Toxins in Litchi

Nature is man's best friend but we have to be careful in how we treat our best friend.

In 2014, a popular summer fruit, litchi killed many children in Bihar, the largest producer of litchis.

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It was almost a mystery as to why litchi suddenly turned fatal. Health experts tried to come up with some explanations - some said it was a deadly virus, while others advised not to consume unripe litchis - but nothing was concrete.

The litchi mystery seems to have finally been solved now. It has been found that litchi contains certain natural toxins, mainly said to be in the seeds. Apparently, the toxic nature of litchi is not an unknown fact. In ancient China, which is said to be the native place of litchi, people were aware of the fact and were cautious about it.
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According to a research study done by a team of researchers from US and India, it stated, "Our investigation suggests an outbreak of acute encephalopathy in Muzaffarpur associated with both hypoglycin A and MCPG toxicity."

Hypoglycin A and methylenecyclopropylglycine (MCPG), which are naturally present in litchi fruit, block enzymes involved in normal glucose metabolism and this results in an inability to synthesis glucose leading to acutely low level of blood sugar.

The outbreaks of the unexplained acute neurological illness with high mortality among children were mainly due to toxicity. This toxicity in litchi can arise due to several factors such as humidity, heat, pesticides.

The study also found that litchis, particularly unripe fruits, contain an amino acid that affects blood glucose levels severely. "Parents in affected villages report that during May and June, young children frequently spend their day eating litchis in the surrounding orchards; many return home in the evening uninterested in eating a meal," the researchers wrote.

"In late 2013, CDC colleagues in Atlanta brought to our attention the well reported case of toxic hypoglycaemic syndrome in West Indies caused by hypoglycin A, a toxin found in ackee fruit, which is in the same family as litchi," she says.

During the study, urine samples showed that two-thirds of the ill children showed evidence of exposure to toxins found in lychee seeds, found in higher levels in unripe fruits. Due to these toxins glucose synthesis is severely impaired, leading to dangerously low blood sugar and brain inflammation in the children.

"To prevent illness and reduce mortality in the region, we recommended minimising litchi consumption, ensuring receipt of an evening meal and implementing rapid glucose correction for suspected illness," advised the researchers.

If a child falls ill, the researchers said they should be treated quickly to correct their glucose levels to prevent lasting damage such as mental impairment, muscle weakness and movement disorders.

Source: Medindia

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