Following the death of over 100 children in Muzaffarpur and a few more districts in Bihar due to hypoglycaemic encephalopathy, litchi sales has witnessed a 15-20% drop. According to a June 18 health ministry press release, “high percentage” of children who died had low blood glucose level. Bihar government had issued an advisory asking parents not to give litchi fruit to children on an empty stomach.
“It is safe to eat litchi fruit. Children and adult who are well nourished can eat litchi without worrying about any health problems,” says virologist Dr. Jacob John. “Litchi is a safe food except in children who are severely under-nourished. Severe malnutrition is a predisposing factor and only under-nourished children who go to bed on empty stomach after eating litchi are at risk.”
“Special care has to be taken to ensure that severely malnourished children who eat litchi have a meal before going to bed,” says Dr. John. He led a two-member team that suspected and confirmed the role of MCPG in causing hypoglycaemic encephalopathy.
In children who are under-nourished, consumption of litchi during the day and going to bed on empty stomach causes a sharp fall in blood glucose level early next morning.
Methylene cyclopropyl glycine (MCPG) that is present in the fruit causes the release of amino acids which are toxic to brain cells. The amino acids cause the brain cells to swell, leading to convulsions, deepening coma and even death in children.