Litchi Monster, The Major Reason Behind Mysterious Deaths In Bihar

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For a good two decades (1994 – 2014), Bihar’s Muzaffarpur region had been the epicenter of a mysterious neurological disorder, which has ended up claiming nearly 100 lives each year till 2014. But in a joint effort by scientists from the National Centre For Disease Control in India and the Centre For Disease Control in the US, the mystery monster has been finally caught. The reason behind all the deaths is – believe it or not – litchi, Muzaffarpur’e popular tropical summer fruit.

 

Numbers & Truth

During the course of their study, the scientists conducted hospital-based surveillance that involved laboratory investigations to assess potential infectious and non-infectious causes in 390 children less than 15 years old, who were admitted to Shri Krishna Medical College hospital and Krishnadevi Deviprasad Kejriwal maternity hospital -the chief referral medical centres in Muzaffarpur with sudden neurological illness, reports The Times of India. 

Speaking in numbers, the report said that of the 390 admitted, 122 (31%) died, while on admission 204 (62%) showed lowblood glucose level. In most of the cases, the patient had consumed litchis after having missed the previous evening meal, that is, on an empty stomach. Parents of the area hit by this litchi plague admitted that during May and June, children frequently spent their day eating litchis in orchards and many of them returned home in the evening and did not have a meal.

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But, How?

Apparently, consuming the fruit on an empty stomach triggers the illness, characteristics of which often include acute seizures and changed mental status. And there is solid science to back their finding. Here’s what the researchers in India and US concluded.

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Skipping an evening meal results in nighttime hypoglycaemia, or low-blood sugar, particularly in children with inadequate glucose stored in liver and muscles. This sparks oxidation of fatty acids for energy production and generation of glucose. However, naturally occurring toxins that are found in litchis – hypoglycin A and methylenecyclopropylglycine (MPCG) – disrupt the fatty acid metabolism, leading to acutely low levels of blood sugar. This further affects brain function, leading to the characteristic seizures and even strokes. The research findings have been published in the latest issue of medical journal The Lancet.

“This study, to the best of our knowledge, is the largest investigation of the Muzaffarpur outbreak and the first comprehensive confirmation that this recurring outbreak illness is associated with litchi consumption and toxicity from both hypoglycin A and MPCG. We confirm the presence of MPCG and hypoglycin in litchis, and, for the first time, our data shows the metabolites of these toxins in human biological specimens, the biological impact of these toxins on human metabolism, and the modifying effect of the lack of an evening meal of the impact of these toxins,” scientists report in the Lancet study.

 

So, this summer, think twice before jumping into that pile of litchis on an empty stomach!

 

Featured Image: New HD Wallpapers

Ankita

Binge eater by day and binge watcher by night, Ankita is fluent in food, film, and Internet. When she’s not obsessing over the hottest trends, tacos, and the perfect author’s bio, you can find her under a pile of Jeffery Archer’s novels or looking for the nearest wine shop.

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