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Antioxidants in Citrus May Head Off Obesity-Related Diseases

  • Jessica Berman

Clementines and oranges, Aug. 21, 2016. (Phoro: Diaa Bekheet)

Clementines and oranges, Aug. 21, 2016. (Phoro: Diaa Bekheet)

Eating citrus fruit could head off chronic diseases that are related to obesity, a growing health problem in many parts of the world, according to a new study.

Diabetes, heart disease and liver disease are increasing as more people pack on the kilos. But there’s a substance in citrus fruits called flavanones, which are antioxidants that help people’s bodies reduce the amount of oxidative stress. The diseases linked to obesity are caused by oxidative stress and its related inflammation.

When humans consume a fatty diet, their fat cells produce reactive oxygen species that harm cells. When fat cells become too large, which they do in obese individuals, they produce higher levels of reactive oxygen species that overwhelm the body, causing inflammation and disease.

Researchers say antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, such as citrus flavanones, help fight reactive oxygen species and reduce oxidative stress in animals that eat a high fat diet.

Paula Ferreira, a graduate researcher at the Universidade Estadual Paulist in Brazil conducted the research. The month-long experiment by Ferreira and colleagues involved 50 mice, feeding them either a normal diet, a high fat diet, or a high fat diet with three flavanones.

Investigators found the mice that ate a high fat diet, but no flavanones, had significantly higher levels of cell damage, than mice that ate a normal diet

Mice on the high fat died had 80 percent more cell damage markers in their blood and 57 percent in the liver compared to rodents fed a normal diet, report researchers.

But mice fed a high fat diet plus the three flavanones - hesperidin, eriocitrin and eriodictyol - had a reduction in cell damage markers compared to mice on a standard diet. Reductions in the liver ranged from 50 to 64 percent depending upon the flavanone given compared to those on a high fat diet alone.

Researchers said the obese mice became healthier consuming citrus flavanones even though they did lose any weight.

“Our results indicate that in the future, we can use citrus flavanones, a class of antioxidants, to prevent or delay chronic diseases caused by obesity in humans,” said Ferreira.

It’s also possible, said researchers, that citrus could be beneficial to people who are not obese but eat a fatty, Western-style diet, she said. Ferreira said the best way to get flavanones is to drink them, like orange juice.

“Many of the citrus juices, because citrus juice has high amounts of ... these compounds.”

The researchers presented their findings at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in Pennsylvania, the largest scientific society in the world.

Investigators next plan to conduct human studies, to see whether it’s healthier to give citrus flavanones in juice or pill form, or whether they have the same effect.