Friday, April 15, 2011

Can bottle gourd juice kill a person? ICMR takes up scientific investigation

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Can a glass of bottle gourd juice taken on empty stomach kill a  person? Indian researchers and clinicians will rack their brains and dig out old medical  and scientific records in the next 30 days to find out whether bottle gourd, considered a healthy vegetable, has the potential to kill people.
Nine months after a CSIR senior scientist, Dr Sushil Kumar, died after consuming a glass  of bottle gourd juice on empty stomach, the Indian Council of Medical Research has now sought the help of scientists, researchers, clinicians and common people to unravel the mystery of bottle gourd toxins. The ICMR will collect the data till May 10 after which it will prepare its report.
There have been a number of medical cases of bottle gourd poisoning in different parts of the world including the USA. India had recorded three such cases in the recent past. The ICMR, India's premier medical research body, has taken up the bottle gourd case following expression of opposing opinions by doctors. Some doctors argue that it's poisonous particularly if it is bitter in taste. Others point out that bottle gourd is a healthy vegetable.
According to senior scientist Dr GS Toteja, the ICMR has constituted an expert committee to look into the issue of safety of consumption of bottle gourd juice. ICMR is now collecting data from clinicians, who have treated bottle gourd toxicity cases, the general people, who have observed any adverse effects on consumption of juice, and researchers having information on its beneficial or toxic effects.
The ICMR will come out with a report based on the data received by it. The report will be useful for health planners and those who believe that bottle gourd is good for health.
Bottle gourd belongs to the cucumber or cucurbita family. They contain a toxin element called tetracyclic triterpenoid cucurbitacins. The presence of this toxin gives bitterness to gourds. The more the bitterness the more the quantity of cucurbitacins. Research on rats showed that the toxin was capable of killing them.
For human beings, according to senior clinician Dr JP Sharma, who had dealt with bottle gourd poisoning cases, the problem begins if the gourd is consumed raw. Cooking kills the effect of this toxin. It's better to avoid gourds if they are bitter in taste.
However, dietician Charita Adikane argues that bottle gourd is a nutritious vegetable and is recommended for patients. It has high fibre content which acts as an exertive. "It's a natural antibiotic. It is good for cardiac patients, as it stimulates body fluids and provides relief from dryness," she clarifies.

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