There is a state along the eastern coast of India where children have been suddenly dying for over two decades. Their mysterious deaths were caused by unexpected seizures, and rapid loss of consciousness due to a neurological damage. But, what caused these conditions that resulted in numerous tragic deaths?
Several investigations were unable to set an exact reason. What was certain was that the seizures seemed to strike randomly, affecting one child at a time.
Finally, a study published by The Lancet was able to determine the cause, which surprised many. Apparently, the seemingly harmless lychee fruit was the reason behind the tragic deaths of hundreds of malnourished children living in Muzarffarpur.
After analyzing 400 cases of children who developed the brain illness between May and July 2014, the researchers compared the affected children with 100 children that did not develop the mysterious illness. They discovered that those with the brain illness were 10 times more likely to have eaten lychee, 24 hours before becoming ill, compared to those unaffected by the illness. It’s been also discovered that the affected children were twice as likely to have eaten lychee on an empty stomach, than those who did not develop the illness. The sick children displayed exceedingly low blood sugar levels, and other signs indicating problems with their metabolism.
When you have an empty stomach, there is a dip in blood sugar levels and the body is then equipped to handle this situation by metabolizing fatty acids to produce glucose for energy. These kids were unable to metabolize the fatty acids due to certain toxins found in lychee – hypoglycin and methylenecyclopropyl glycine, or MCPG. They disrupt the metabolism of fatty acids, contributing to extremely low blood sugar levels and subsequent brain inflammation and seizures.
70% of India’s lychee harvest is done in the Muzaffarpur area in India.
“The synergistic combination of [lychee] consumption, a missed evening meal, and other potential factors such as poor nutritional status and eating a greater number of lychees may be needed to produce the illness” researchers wrote in the Jan. 30 issue of the journal the Lancet Global Health.
Once the cause was known in 2015, researchers advised the children to be treated immediately for hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels. They also urged parents to ensure children consume evening meals, and limit their intake of lychees.
The villagers accepted these recommendations and ever since there has been a positive effect. The Times reported that over the last two seasons, the number of reported cases in Muzaffarpur have reduced from hundreds each year, to about 50.