Ackee (Blighia sapida) is the national fruit of Jamaica and grows in clusters on evergreen trees. Hypoglycin A (the causative toxic substance in ackee) is contained in the aril, seeds and husks of ackee fruit, at various stages of ripeness.
The ingestion of unripe ackee for the purpose of medicinal or nutritional purposes can give rise to acute poisoning called "Jamaican vomiting sickness" or toxic hypoglycemic syndrome (THS). Adverse effects include loss of muscle tone, vomiting, convulsions, coma and death. Deaths have occurred after unintentional poisoning with ackee, and most of these deaths have occurred in small children ranging from 2-6 years-old. Only when the fruit ripens and opens naturally on the tree may the fruit be eaten; however, the membrane at the base should be removed.
Various parts of the ackee tree have been used medicinally to expel parasites and to treat dysentery (severe diarrhea), ophthalmic conjunctivitis (eye inflammation) and headache. More research is needed to make a recommendation of the therapeutic benefits of ackee.
Due to its toxicity, the importation of this fruit into the USA is forbidden by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
* Key to grades
A: Strong scientific evidence for this use B: Good scientific evidence for this use C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work) F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)
Tradition / Theory
The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
Individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to ackee (Blighia sapida), its constituents, or to other members of the Sapindaceae family should not take ackee.
There have been reports of anaphylaxis reactions to ackee fruit.
Side Effects and Warnings
Ackee is likely safe when tree-ripened and properly prepared ackee is taken in food amounts. However, individuals should use caution when consuming imported canned products. There have been numerous cases of toxic levels of hypoglycin detected in cans containing ackee fruit that were imported to the United States. Eating unripe or overripe fruit is not recommended due to potential toxicity.
Ingestion of unripe ackee fruit may cause abdominal pain, intermittent diarrhea, hypotonia (decrease muscle tone), weakness, nausea, vomiting, stupor, hemorrhages (bleeding), confusion, headache, convulsions, tachypnea (rapid breathing), tachycardia (fast heart beat), and intense itching.
Multiple cases of "Jamaican vomiting sickness," also known as toxic hypoglycemic syndrome (lowered blood sugar levels in the body), have been reported after the ingestion of unripe ackee fruit. Unripe ackee fruit may also be toxic to the brain, kidneys and liver. Coma and death have occurred.
Unripe ackee arillus (oil) may decrease the number of neutrophils in the blood and increase platelets.
Cholestatic jaundice, steatosis (fatty liver), vomiting and abdominal pain have been noted with chronic ackee fruit ingestion.
Use cautiously in patients with diabetes, liver disease, or compromised kidney function.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Ackee is not recommended in pregnant or breastfeeding women due to a lack of available scientific evidence.
Ackee may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. Patients taking drugs for diabetes by mouth or insulin should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.
Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
Ackee may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also lower blood sugar.
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Meda HA, Diallo B, Buchet JP, et al. Epidemic of fatal encephalopathy in preschool children in Burkina Faso and consumption of unripe ackee (Blighia sapida) fruit. Lancet 2-13-1999;353(9152):536-540.
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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.