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Attention, gourd lovers: Toxic squash syndrome is a real, life-threatening condition


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Did you know a serving of bitter squash could negatively influence your health? If you answered no, you’re not alone: Recent case research published in JAMA Dermatology recounts the experiences of two unrelated women in France who bought produce from two different sellers and experienced harrowing effects, Live Science reported. They both developed toxic squash syndrome (AKA cucurbit poisoning), a rare condition that can cause food-poisoning symptoms and substantial hair loss.

One of the women experienced nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea as well as hair loss on a large part of her scalp, according to Live Science. The second woman had similar issues: vomiting an hour after eating and a large amount of hair loss from her head, underarms, and pubic area three weeks later.

Because that bitter taste isn’t a hot commodity, farmers grow plants that have little (if any!) of the chemicals in them, but sometimes cross-pollination causes plants to have super-high levels—and you can’t tell the difference until you taste it.

Live Science reported that squash and other produce in the Cucurbitaceae family contain a group of chemicals called cucurbitacins, which have a bitter taste and also can be toxic to humans. Because that bitter taste isn’t exactly a hot commodity, farmers tend to grow plants that have little (if any!) of the chemicals in them, but sometimes accidental cross-pollination breeds plants that have super-high levels—and you reportedly can’t tell the difference until you taste it.

The toxic compounds in squash might “have a similar effect on hair follicles as do some chemotherapy drugs, which can lead to temporary hair loss.” —Dr. Philippe Assouly

Though the medical world has known about toxic squash syndrome for a while—there have been reported cases over the years across France and Oregon, and Bustle reported one German man died from complications of it—the hair-loss aspect seems to be new, according to Philippe Assouly, MD, a dermatologist at Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris. Dr. Assouly told Live Science that the toxic compounds might “have a similar effect on hair follicles as do some chemotherapy drugs, which can lead to temporary hair loss.” Yikes.

But don’t adopt a gourd-free lifestyle just yet: If your squash, zucchini, or other produce in the Cucurbitaceae family taste bitter or abnormal, simply stop eating it, and you should be just fine. With all the vitamins and nutrients (hello, crazy-high levels of vitamin A!) these foods offer, it would be a mistake to banish them from your diet to avoid the risk of this kind of TSS.

Here are four healthy ways to use spaghetti squash. Or, try this healthy squash-packed salad.

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