Monday, 5 March 2012

The Indian Council of Medical Research has cautioned people that there is no known antidote for poisoning caused by bitter bottle gourd juice

Syed Akbar
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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Syed Akbar in an island in river Godavari with Papikonda hills in the background

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