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Why we must avoid the lauki smoothie

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Callie JonesWhat we know as the bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) is also known as calabash or opo squash and, in India, as lauki. It is a vine commonly cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas. It is thought to be one of the earliest cultivated plants in both the Old and New Worlds, and was used to make containers, utensils and musical instruments rather than for food.

In India it is used as an Ayurvedic remedy for many ailments including diabetes, hypertension and to aid weight loss. The yoga guru Baba Ramdev popularised the consumption of lauki juice mixed with other ingredients such as aloe vera, amla, karela, jamun and lemon. This widely used household remedy is believed by many to be a tonic, to aid digestion and prevent urinary disorders.

However, an investigation into its safety was launched after the deputy secretary of India’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research died shortly after drinking lauki juice to control his blood sugar levels. Bottle gourd poisoning was confirmed to be the cause of his death and a panel of experts made a specific point of warning against the common practice of mixing lauki with other fruit and vegetable juices which mask its flavour. The panel recommended that a small piece of lauki be tasted before extracting the juice to ensure that it is not bitter. If bitter, the sample carries the highly toxic compound tetracyclic triterpenoid cucurbitacins and should be discarded immediately.

The panel’s advice to doctors is that symptoms of nausea, vomiting and gastrointestinal bleeding after consuming lauki juice be investigated immediately using biochemical, electrolyte and blood tests followed by chest x-ray, electrocardiogram and ultrasound. The quantity of juice taken and its taste should be recorded. Because there is no specific antidote, intravenous fluids should be given to maintain the haemodynamic and electrolyte balance.

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