Litchi: Is It Safe To Consume Them?

A member of the soapberry family, Litchi, is known to mankind from around 1059 AD. But the fruit is now in the news for its role in the widespread encephalitis, rampant across Bihar and other parts of northern India. What is about this fruit that makes it a preferred choice among fruit lovers as well the most dreaded fruit today? Let’s analyse.

Health benefits of Lychee/Litchi:

  • Rich in Vitamin-C and Vitamin B, this one is a preferred summer fruit.
  • It has a high content of manganese, dietary fibre.
  • The high content of antioxidants helps arrest premature ageing and makes it a preferred detox fruit.

What is MCPG:

  • Methylene Cyclopropyl Glycine (MCPG) is an amino acid that is said to have been found in this questionable litchis found across Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, that is widely consumed across India.
  • This amino acid is said to interfere with the breakdown of glucose in the human body leading to hypoglycaemia and encephalopathy- that has triggered the deaths among children across Bihar.
  • The MCPG is said to halt the conversion of fatty acids to glucose, thereby releasing amino acids that are toxic to the human brain.

Consumption of these poisonous litchies and heading to bed on an empty stomach has known to cause the blood sugar levels to rapidly drop among the children. The toxins in the poisoned fruit were also observed to affect the metabolism of fatty acids and the breakdown of glucose which led to encephalitis and subsequent death.

It was noted that this condition was rampant among malnourished kids that put the spotlight back on the underlying poverty in the rural states of India and how that has triggered the deaths that have shaken the whole nation.

High humidity levels in the parts that have reported maximum death and the higher incidence of malnourished kids have been some of the reasons that experts have cited as the primary causes of death across Bihar. Unlike wrongly reported in the initial news reports, the kids have lost their lives due to hypoglycaemic encephalopathy, and not encephalitis.

The final verdict is that regular litchies consumed among healthy children is not known to pose any troubles, but when malnourished kids consume the same and have hit the bed on an empty stomach, that’s when the issue has caused troubles. The toxins in litchi are known to become particularly dangerous during the harsh summers. Given the current scenario, it is best avoided in this season. But if you must consume them, make sure they are cleaned well, not eaten by kids when they are unwell, and not eaten on an empty stomach or as the last meal of the day.

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