A man ended up in hospital after eating fried sponge gourd that had become bitter.
The Chinese-language China Times yesterday reported that the man, in his 50s, cooked the fried sponge gourd at home. While his family members thought it was too bitter and stopped eating, he continued to eat the dish. The man later suffered repeated diarrhea and vomiting.
The man sought medical treatment at Taipei Veterans General Hospital, where he was diagnosed with cucurbitacin poisoning and was hospitalized, the report said.
The hospital’s clinical toxicologist Wu Ming-ling (吳明玲) was quoted in the report as saying that after ruling out pesticide poisoning, the patient had said “the sponge gourd tasted even more bitter than a bitter gourd,” which prompted the diagnosis as a rare case of cucurbitacin poisoning.
Wu said animal testing has shown that cucurbitacins — complex compounds found in plants belonging to cucumber family — can serve as an anti-inflammatory and protect the liver. It is also a strong digestive irritant and excessive intake can cause stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, physical weakness and dehydration.
Cucurbitacin E is a class of biochemical compounds that some plants, notably of the Cucurbitaceae family, including cucumbers, pumpkins and gourds, produce to protect the plant from herbivores.
Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital nephrologist Yen Tzung-hai (顏宗海) said studies from other nations have shown that if a sponge gourd tastes bitter, its cucurbitacin concentration levels might have increased and eating it is likely to cause irritation to the stomach and intestines.
“Cucurbitacin is not found only in pumpkins or gourds, but also some other fruit, and cooking the plant does not decrease the curcubitacin levels,” he said. “It can still irritate the digestive system, and increased intestinal peristalsis can lead to diarrhea, or in serious cases, dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance.”
Doctors said people should avoid eating pumpkins, cucumbers and gourds that taste bitter to prevent illness.
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