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Curcurbit Poisoning Hair Loss From Eating Pumpkin and Squash


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.

Cucurbit poisoning

Pumpkin Seeds and Hair Loss - HalloweenDr 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.

Anagen Effluvium

Hair Growth Cycle DiagramAssouly 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.

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The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.

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