German media this week reported a moving story about a man being killed by trace amounts of an insecticide. The pensioner and his wife from Heidenheim, Baden Wuerttemberg, had eaten a vegetarian stew prepared with zucchini. The zucchinis were a gift from a family member, an avid gardener which followed every advice of the organic gardener’s manual. She had planted zucchinis in the family’s garden, without using synthetic pesticides and artificial fertilizers. She had even saved the seeds from previous harvests rather than buying seeds anew each year from big ag companies, something that proponents of natural farming strongly recommend.

But when the couple ate the zucchini meal from this year’s harvest, a few hours later both had to be admitted to the hospital. The man’s face had turned yellow, and both experienced severe abdominal pain, stomach cramps, vomiting and violent diarrheas. After suffering for nearly two weeks, the man died. His entire gastric mucosa had been literally etched away. His wife was luckier and had been able to leave the hospital a few days before his death.

The zucchini meal had had a bitter taste, which the man ignored. After all, it was a natural, vegetarian meal and bitter tasting foods are recommended by natural health websites as a great way to naturally cleanse the body from toxic substances accumulating in the cells. Besides, he loved the taste of bitter radicchios he planted in his own garden. His wife couldn’t stand the taste, however, and swallowed a few bites only.

What poisoned and finally killed the man? Doctors quickly found out. Unaware of the family, the zucchinis had been contaminated with an extremely toxic insecticide. The chemical compound had been manufactured by the world’s biggest and oldest producer of deadly poisons: Monsanto nature.

The insecticide in question is called cucurbitacin, an insect steroid hormone antagonist acting at the ecdysteroid receptor. This receptor is involved in the development and reproduction of many bugs, and the chemical therefore effectively prevents caterpillars from skinning and growing and adult insects from propagating. The compound is produced by wild zucchini plants and relatives such as pumpkins, melons, squash, gourds and others to fend off or kill predators. Plant breeding efforts have produced variants lacking the ability to protect themselves via the toxin – a completely unnatural process as it results in food favorable for human health but in plants which are vulnerable to their enemies.

Thankfully, the plants can sometimes revert the mutation that renders them defenseless – just one gene seems to be responsible for halting the toxin production, either a mutation or a suppressor-gene. It is also possible that cross-pollination from wild relatives or ornamental pumpkins (which are not edible) leads to the re-introduction of the gene in question. Plant physiologists also know that toxin production can be induced or greatly increased by stress, forcing the plant to produce more of the toxin in its struggle for survival. The exact mechanism of how toxin production is suppressed or induced has never been studied though, as no genetic engineering was involved in the breeding.

In this summer’s case, the gardener was unaware that nature had provided her plants with the ability to produce a healthy amount of natural substances to shield itself against enemies. The protective force of the plant’s chemical compound is quite strong. According to a 2006 report, cucurbitacin E, the least bitter cucurbitacin, „may be recognised at 2 ppm (2 mg/kg) when mixed with squash pulp. If the anticipated exposure to cucurbitacins arises from one mouthful (around 20 g) of squash or watermelon containing between 930 and 3100 mg/kg, this corresponds to an exposure of 18–60 mg cucurbitacins in a person weighing 70 kg. This exposure will correspond to 0.3–0.9 mg/kg body weight.“

A mouthful was about the amount the woman ingested, while her husband finished his meal.

The report continues: „Exposures of experimental animals to cucurbitacins may lead to acute toxic effects. Although exposure via the oral route gives rise to less toxic effects than exposure via the subcutaneous, intraperitoneal and intravenous routes, the oral LD50 in mice is as low as around 5 mg/kg body weight for some of the cucurbitacins (cucurbitacin D and I). Cucurbitacin E and cucurbitacin E glycoside, which are the most common cucurbitacins identified in food plants, have oral LD50 values in mice of 340 and 40 mg/kg body weight, respectively.“

So what are the lessons?

– The „Food Babe“ is right: Don’t eat anything a third grader cannot pronounce, e.g. zucchini, unless you want to cleanse your body.

– Bitter tasting foods can clean your body effectively and entirely, e.g. from its protective mucosa.

– A more natural life style is good for nature, providing plants with all-natural chemical warfare capabilities.

– Natural pesticides are completely different from synthetic pesticides in their toxicity.

– The precautionary principle only applies to GMOs and synthetic pesticides.

– Monsanto is evil.