Hair Loss Link to Pumpkins

General Hair Loss

A threat to hair has been identified after a French doctor warned of a “toxic association” between hair loss and a popular plant group. We look closer.


Time For Tea

There were two cases that triggered a closer investigation by Philippe Assouly, a French dermatologist, into the properties of the humble pumpkin. A woman in France had eaten a bitter tasting pumpkin soup. Her family, who had been with her for the meal, had eaten less of the soup and all suffered food poisoning. The woman in question experienced nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea in the immediate aftermath. A week later she began to lose hair from both her scalp and pubic area. As reported by Assouly in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a second woman suffered with food poisoning after eating a meal that included squash, another member of the same family, when other diners had avoided the squash due to it’s bitter flavour. “About three weeks later, the patient experienced substantial hair loss on her head as well as severe alopecia on the armpits and pubic region.” Assouly said.

Root Cause

The plant family in the spotlight are cucurbits, it includes pumpkins, squashes and gourds. They can all contain cucurbitacin, a toxic compound which produces a bitter taste. Typically that bitterness will have been bred out of the domesticated cucurbits grown for the food industry. Insects can carry the pollen from wild plants and cross pollenate them with the domesticated versions, thus reintroducing the potential threat back into the food chain.

HIS Hair Clinic

The bitter taste is there as a warning and should save anyone from eating too much of a bad thing. There was an incident, 3 years ago, where a German died of curcubitacin poisoning after eating a courgette stew… so it is important not to underestimate their potential toxicity. The hair loss Dr Assouly described in his two patients, the longevity and severity, are of the sort sometimes associated with the use of a nerve agent, again an indicator of just how toxic these cucurbaticins are.

On a brighter note, at least it you are probably not being asked to give up something you adore, cheese/coffee/beer, to hold on to your locks. Not too many of us will miss a bitter soup from our diet.

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