Are Litchis causing deaths?
Malu SharmaA small red summer fruit grown in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and eaten widely across India is being linked to the deaths of atleast 150 children has triggering panic in whole nation. According to reports, the presence of some toxins in the litchi fruit is believed to have caused encephalitis – inflammation of the brain – in around 200 children, 100 of whom are critical and are undergoing treatment. The outbreak of this encephalitis syndrome takes place every year during summers but this year its rising death toll has created an alarming situation. The deaths of children have raised questions if one should consume this very summer fruit or not and how it is harmful if consumed? To understand this, one has to look at the composition of the fruit, which is divided into pulp and seed. The litchi seed was found to contain an unusual amino acid called hypoglycin-A or methylene cyclopropyl glycine (MCPG) which is a naturally-occurring fruit-based toxin. This was published in a study conducted in 2017 in the Lancet Global Health medical journal. According to the study, Hypoglycin A or MCPG affects various processes of metabolism and the breakdown of glucose in the body, which may also lead to hypoglycemia, a condition where your blood sugar drops drastically, and encephalopathy. Now question arises what happens if you eat a litchi? Multiple studies conducted on the naturally-occurring toxins in litchi and the deaths in Muzaffarpur, India’s largest litchi cultivation region, over the years have suggested that the illness occurs when litchis are eaten and a long gap is taken after a meal or after a prolonged fast. This occurs because skipping meals cause sugar levels to drop and body began to metabolise fatty acids to produce glucose and energy which later results in illness. Moreover, in some cases, the litchi toxins affect the metabolism of fatty acids and the breakdown of glucose, and in many cases, it led to the inflammation of the brain, which is called encephalitis. It is also worth mentioning here that the side-effects of eating Litchi fruit occur mostly in malnourished children. However, studies have also suggested that parents, can save their children from this syndrome by minimising the consumption of this very fruit and by making sure that children do not fill their stomachs with only litchis. Also, it is recommended by doctors that parents need to ensure that their children eat something after eating litchis and do not just go to bed without eating an evening meal after consumption of litchis.
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