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Hair Falls Out and You Can Die: What Zucchini You Can’t Eat

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Zucchini grown in a certain way can pose a serious threat.

You may not have heard the word cucurbitacin before, but chances are you have eaten it before. Cucurbits are a family of gourd-like flowering plants that include cucumbers, melons, squash, and pumpkins, which can be delicious and healthy foods for your diet. However, they can also be unsuitable for food and make you very sick if you are not careful.

Why zucchini is dangerous

Zucchini can contain a toxic compound called cucurbitacin E., which can cause poisoning, also known as toxic zucchini syndrome (not to be confused with toxic shock syndrome) in people who eat it.

A March 2018 report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association describes two French women who became very ill and experienced severe hair loss after unrelated cases of zucchini poisoning.

However, there is no need to rid your kitchen of all zucchini or cucumbers. Although it can be quite serious, cases of zucchini poisoning are also very rare. Learning how it happens, how to avoid it, and what to do if you ever get toxic zucchini syndrome can help you protect yourself and your family.

How zucchini becomes toxic: what is the harm of zucchini

Plants in the pumpkin family produce the toxin cucurbitacin as a natural defense against insects. While wild pumpkins, cucumbers, and other pumpkin crops can contain significant amounts of cucurbitacin, cultivated varieties usually contain such a small amount that it does not affect humans.

“Wild zucchini contain relatively high concentrations of cucurbitacin and are very bitter,” said Jim Myers, a vegetable breeder at Oregon State University. “Whereas their domestic relatives, which we grow in the garden and buy in the store, have lower but varying amounts of the bitter compound.”

Cross-pollination with wild plants, as well as certain types of stress during growth, such as lack of water or poor fertilization, are some of the factors thought to cause elevated levels of cucurbitacin in Zucchini and other produce.

How to avoid toxic zucchini syndrome

You can probably tell a bad vegetable when you taste it, as plants with high concentrations of cucurbitacin are extremely and unpleasantly bitter. If you take a bite of zucchini and taste an unpleasant aftertaste, spit it out and stop eating. Eating even a few pieces can make you very sick and experience terrible side effects.

Since cross-pollination is a contributing factor to the high concentration of cucurbitacin, do not eat a zucchini you are not familiar with. For example, if you have wild zucchini growing in your garden that you did not plant, or if you also grow ornamental pumpkins and zucchini together with “domestic” ones, do not eat them.

Symptoms of toxic zucchini syndrome

If you have eaten at least a few pieces of a very bitter pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, or another member of the pumpkin family, pay attention to the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Dizziness in a standing position

In addition, significant hair loss may occur in the weeks following cucurbitacin poisoning. The two women mentioned in the JAMA report experienced hair loss on their heads and bodies, and it took several months for them to start again. However, the researchers stated that these are the first known cases of hair loss caused by zucchini poisoning.

How to choose good zucchini

A bad zucchini is easily recognized by its dull and lifeless skin. Do not eat zucchini if it is covered with rotten spots or rot. The vegetable may feel soft, and the skin may be wrinkled or wrinkled. If you cut into a bad zucchini, the inner flesh may be fibrous and filled with large seeds.

Treatment of zucchini poisoning

In most cases, zucchini poisoning is as unpleasant as other cases of food poisoning. However, in 2015, a man from Germany died and his wife was hospitalized after eating a significant amount of toxic zucchini in a stew.

Seek medical attention if you are dehydrated, experience excessive pain or dizziness, have persistent stomach problems, or believe you have eaten more than one or two pieces of food containing large amounts of cucurbitacin.

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Written by Emma Miller

I am a registered dietitian nutritionist and own a private nutrition practice, where I provide one-on-one nutritional counseling to patients. I specialize in chronic disease prevention/ management, vegan/ vegetarian nutrition, pre-natal/ postpartum nutrition, wellness coaching, medical nutrition therapy, and weight management.

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