Two French women experienced food poisoning after eating toxic varieties of pumpkin and squash. In both cases they also noticed hair loss
a few weeks after the initial symptoms - the first time this response has been medically documented.
Peculiarly, they didn't know each other and bought their fruit from different vendors.
Dr Philippe Assouly, a dermatologist from Saint Louis Hospital in France, wrote a report which covered these incidents.
He believes their adverse reactions were caused by cucurbitacin, a toxic and bitter-tasting chemical found naturally in some members of the Cucurbitaceae plant family. This includes cucumbers
, pumpkins, and squash.
Assouly suggests that the compound's "antimitotic action"
- the ability to inhibit the process of cell division - could explain why both women suddenly started shedding hair.
The report, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association
, covers the experiences of the women during and after their meals.
The first ate a bitter pumpkin soup and experienced symptoms of food poisoning - "nausea, vomiting, diarrhea"
- which lasted for a day. A week later she noticed substantial hairloss on her head and also lost hair on her genitals.
Her family ate the soup in smaller quantities and contracted food poisoning but didn't lose any hair.
The second woman fell ill after eating a meal that included bitter-tasting squash: three weeks later she lost a considerable amount of hair from her scalp and had "severe alopecia on the armpits and pubic region".
She was dining with friends who didn't show any signs of hair loss as they declined to eat the squash.
After two months the woman who ate the pumpkin soup witnessed two centimetres of hair growth on affected areas of the scalp. The second had hair regrowth of six centimetres on her head after six months.
Assouly explains that both women experienced Anagen Effluvium
which makes hair fall out during the active - or anagen - phase of the hair growth cycle
As the research demonstrates, visible signs of the condition can be dramatic. Belgravia hair loss specialist Rali Bozhinova
explains, "nearly 90 per cent of the hair is in the anagen phase, so most of it would be lost".
Anagen Effluvium is common among those receiving chemotherapy
treatment. It can also be caused by other forms of toxicity which affect cell mitosis - such as cucurbit poisoning.
Eliminating the hair loss trigger is sometimes sufficient to allow hair to start growing back. Where appropriate Belgravia
would typically treat cases of Anagen Effluvium with a tailored hair loss treatment
course based around a topical medication and featuring additional supplementary hair growth supporting products
Hair regrowth from this condition is typically quicker than it is for Telogen Effluvium
, which forces the hair cycle into its resting (telogen) phase early. According to Bozhinova, "this is because the hair is not completely lost with the bulb in cases of Anagen Effluvium - it’s only broken due to atrophy in the hair shaft".
This may also explain why both women acquired trichorrhexis nodosa a disorder characterised by swelling along the hair shafts, causing them to fracture.
Domesticated Cucurbitaceae are specifically bred to make them safe for human consumption - pumpkins have actually shown to be good
for hair health. However, it's best to heed Assouly's advice and avoid any that taste too bitter, particularly considering its newfound implications.