Pumpkin Lovers Beware: Know the Signs of Toxic Squash Syndrome

Pumpkin Lovers Beware: Know the Signs of Toxic Squash Syndrome

What’s the first signal of autumn? For many of us, it’s our go-to coffee shop announcing that Pumpkin Spice is back for the season! In the last decade, the pumpkin spice craze has affected nearly every aisle of the grocery store. In their list of pumpkin spice products for the 2022 season, Taste of Home includes a pumpkin spice variety of cotton candy, hot chocolate mix, cereal, peanut butter, and of course, many baked goods.

In some rare cases, consuming this nutritious fruit can cause a health concern known as toxic squash syndrome.

Are pumpkins good for you?

Pumpkins are a type of winter squash. They belong to the same plant family as cucumbers and melons. With seeds on the inside, pumpkins are technically a fruit. Its nutritional makeup, however,a pumpkin is more like a vegetable. Pumpkins are rich in vitamins A, K, E, B6, C and potassium.

Pumpkin seeds are also a great, healthy snack. They are low in carbs but high in fat, making them an ideal snack for those following plant-based or low carb diets.

What is bitter squash?

Although the health benefits are numerous, a problem can occur in the cultivation of some members of the Cucurbitaceae family — which includes pumpkins, squash, melons and cucumbers. These fruits can produce cucurbitacins. Cucurbitacins are chemicals that cause the fruit to taste bitter and become toxic.

During normal production, these fruits produce little to no cucurbitacins. Accidental cross-pollination of crops may occur which causes high levels of these chemicals. The fruit appears normal whether affected by cucurbitacins or not, and a consumer may not realize anything is wrong until taking a bitter bite. Continuing to consume the bitter fruit can lead to toxic squash syndrome.

What are the symptoms of toxic squash syndrome?

The most common symptoms associated with toxic squash syndrome include diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In extreme cases, toxic squash syndrome has caused swelling in the liver, gallbladder, kidney, and pancreas.

Two cases of hair loss due to toxic squash syndrome were reported in a study from France in 2018, and in 2015, a German man died from toxic squash syndrome after eating a zucchini. Death is thankfully incredibly rare from toxic squash syndrome.

If you notice any fruits in the squash family seeming bitter to taste, stop eating them immediately, and if you develop serious symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately.

Need a doctor? Our CCMH providers would love to care for you. Find one today at ccmhhealth.com/providers.