They are chockfull of vitamin C and antioxidants, so it's no news that oranges and other citrus fruits are good for you. But it turns out citrus fruits may also be able to prevent obesity-related heart disease, liver disease and diabetes.
A team of researchers reported its findings this weekend at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
More than one-third of all adults in the United States are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Being obese increases the risk of developing heart disease, liver disease and diabetes, most likely because of inflammation and oxidative stress.
When humans consume a high-fat diet, they accumulate fat in their bodies. Fat cells produce excessive reactive oxygen species, which can damage cells in a process called oxidative stress. The body can usually fight off the molecules with antioxidants. But obese patients have very enlarged fat cells, which can lead to even higher levels of reactive oxygen species that overwhelm the body's ability to counteract them.
Citrus fruits contain large amounts of antioxidants, a class of which are called flavanones. Previous studies linked citrus flavanones to lowering oxidative stress in vitro and in animal models. These researchers wanted to observe the effects of citrus flavanones for the first time on mice with no genetic modifications and that were fed a high-fat diet.
The team, at Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP) in Brazil, conducted an experiment with 50 mice, treating them with flavanones found in oranges, limes and lemons. The flavanones they focused on were hesperidin, eriocitrin and eriodictyol. For one month, researchers gave groups either a standard diet, a high-fat diet, a high-fat diet plus hesperidin, a high-fat diet plus eriocitrin or a high-fat diet plus eriodictyol.
The high-fat diet without the flavanones increased the levels of cell-damage markers called thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) by 80% in the blood and 57% in the liver compared to mice on a standard diet. But hesperidin, eriocitrin and eriodictyol decreased the TBARS levels in the liver by 50%, 57% and 64%, respectively, compared with mice fed a high-fat diet but not given flavanones. Eriocitrin and eriodictyol also reduced TBARS levels in the blood by 48% and 47%, respectively, in these mice. In addition, mice treated with hesperidin and eriodictyol had reduced fat accumulation and damage in the liver.
"Our studies did not show any weight loss due to the citrus flavanones," says Thais B. Cesar, PhD, who leads the team. "However, even without helping the mice lose weight, they made them healthier with lower oxidative stress, less liver damage, lower blood lipids and lower blood glucose."
Paula S. Ferreira, a graduate student with the research team, points out that people who are not obese, but who nevertheless consume diets rich in fats, could probably benefit from consuming citrus fruits.
Next, the team will explore how best to administer these flavanones, whether in citrus juice, by consuming the fruit or developing a pill with these antioxidants. In addition, the team plans to conduct studies involving humans, Cesar says.
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