Hyderabad: The Indian Council of Medical Research has cautioned people that
there is no known antidote for poisoning caused by bitter bottle gourd juice. Bottle
gourd, which is unusually bitter, contains certain chemicals that severely react with the
body causing internal bleeding and fluid loss from the organs. Bitter bottle gourd
poisoning requires hospitalisation in intensive care unit for four to 12 days.
The ICMR, which last year warned people against drinking bottle gourd juice if it is
bitter, has now made it clear that there is no specific antidote to treat bitter bottle
gourd poisoning. The medical treatment has to be based on the symptoms the patient
presents himself with.
The country’s premier medical research body now plans to take up research on the chemical
composition of bitter and normal bottle gourd and other members of the cucumber family,
besides studies on interaction between bottle gourd juice and other drugs. The need for
further research gains significance as bottle gourd has been hailed by Ayurveda
practitioners as a natural remedy for diabetes, high blood pressure, liver diseases and
Says Dr Abdul Khaliq, senior gastroenterologist at Care Hospital, “bitter bottle gourd
poisoning patients exhibit symptoms similar to those of burns and acute pancreatitis
cases. In medical terminology, we call it third space fluid loss. Fluid comes out of the
blood, blood pressure falls and there may be internal bleeding. In some cases, the
patient has to be put on ventilator. Usually, the patients recover within a few days”.
Dr Abdul Khaliq, who has conducted extensive research on bitter bottle gourd poisoning,
agrees that no antidote has thus far been found to treat the problem. “This is because
not much research has been done in this area. There is no diagnostic test to find out
bitter bottle gourd poisoning, and in the best way to deal with the problem is
prevention. Avoid bottle gourd juice if it is bitter”.
Bottle gourd is a member of cucumber family or cucurbitaceae. These vegetables develop
bitterness if the percentage of cucurbitacins, a type of poison, is high. Though bitter
gourd or karela is bitter, it gets the bitterness from momordicin. Cucurbitacins are
toxic tetracyclic triterpenoid compounds, which may even cause death.
According to the ICMR task force on bitter gourd poisoning, cucurbitacins are divided
into twelve categories. The bottle gourd contains the triterpenoid cucurbitacins B, D, G,
H and 22-deoxy cucurbitacin. Higher levels of cucurbitacin are triggered by environmental
stress, like high temperatures, wide temperature swings or too little water, uneven
watering practices, low soil fertility and low soil pH.
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