What Is Cucurbitacin Poisoning? Two Women Lose Their Hair After Eating Poisoned Fruit

In what scientists believe is a world first, two women have suffered alopecia triggered by a toxic chemical in pumpkins and squash. 

Each case involved women eating bitter-tasting cucurbits, the plant family which the fruits are a part of. 

One woman suffered food poisoning after eating a meal containing a bitter-tasting squash. While her fellow diners didn’t eat the fruit because of its strange taste, she vomited severely for hours after the meal. Around three weeks later, clumps of hair fell out of her head, armpits and pubic region.

GettyImages-457649898 A farmer inspects a pumpkin that has grown on his farm at Lyburn Farm, England, October 22, 2014. A new study has suggested a link between a chemical in pumpkins and alopecia. Matt Cardy/Getty Images

In a similar case involving a bitter-tasting pumpkin soup, a woman and her family were hit with vomiting and diarrhea lasting a day. But around a week later the woman—who had eaten more than her family—experienced “substantial hair loss,” according to an observation by scientists published in JAMA Dermatology. 

In both instances, their hair started to grow back several months later, wrote the team at the Centre Sabouraud, Saint Louis Hospital, in the French capital of Paris. 

GettyImages-138075644 A man dusts shop mannequins displaying wigs in a hair and beauty store London. Scientists say two women lost their hair after eating cucurbits. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Researchers believe a chemical known as cucurbitacin, which gave the fruits their bitter flavor, had triggered toxic cucurbit poisoning that caused their hair to fall out.

The poisoning was the latest in Europe set off by cucurbits, but the first ever to cause alopecia, the researchers said.

To make them enjoyable to eat, bitterness is generally bred out of cucurbit crops. But accidental cross-pollination caused by insects moving between wild and cultivated fruits can make the plants extremely bitter and spike levels of cucurbitacin.

“It seems important and useful to be aware of this toxic association of alopecia with a common plant,” the authors wrote.