Do you like litchis? Well, prepare to be very, very careful before eating them the next time, at least on an empty stomach. 

A joint study conducted by Indian and US scientists into hundreds of mysterious deaths in Bihar over the last two decades has found that the cause of death was none other than the litchi. 

b’Litchis | Source: AFP’

Mysterious deaths in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur 

Bihar’s Muzaffarpur- India’s largest litchi cultivation region – has been plagued with a mysterious epidemic. From 1994 to 2014, almost 1,000 children in the area have died of a strange disorder, India Today reported in 2014. For many years, doctors were confused about the exact cause of the seasonal outbreak of the illness that causes those afflicted with it to have seizures and lose normal brain functioning before ultimately dying, The Times of India reports. 

A joint investigation started in 2013 between researchers of National Centre For Disease Control in India and the Centre For Disease Control in the US. It has found that the mysterious ‘virus’ is caused not by encephalitis, or exposure to pesticides as had been conjectured earlier but by eating the season litchi fruit upon an empty stomach. 

Why does it happen? 


During the months of June and July, the region is bursting with fresh litchis. Children in the area often skip dinner and go to bed without meals, and spend their days eating litchies from orchards. 

The researchers from NCDC and CDC studied about 390 children that had been admitted to the hospital in 2013 with the particular symptoms of this disorder. Out of them, 122 children died of the illness. Out of the total 390 children, 204 children had low blood sugar levels and most of them had eaten litchis on empty stomachs. 

Almost 70 percent of Bihar’s population is poverty-stricken, and the children who are identified with these symptoms usually come from poor families, Hindustan Times reported in 2015. 

b’Representational Image | Source: Reutersxc2xa0′

Don’t skip dinner 

According to the research, which is published in the British medical journal Lancet, skipping dinner causes night-time hypoglycemia (low-blood sugar), especially in children who already are low on stored glycogen and glucose in the body, and thus metabolism takes place by the breaking down of fatty acids in the stomach. 

Consuming litchis in this state disrupts the metabolic process since the naturally occurring toxins in the fruit like hypoglycin A and methylenecyclopropylglycine c disrupt the metabolic process and the person suffers through an an acute sugar drop in the body, which hampers brain functioning. Thus the deaths are caused due to toxicity within the stomach. 

This is the first study to provide any conclusive evidence as to the cause of the mysterious Muzaffarpur epidemic. The research also highlights the impact of skipping dinner at night since toxicity of this kind only occur on an empty stomach.

So the next time you think of skipping a meal, especially at night, think twice. 

Feature Image Source: AFP