Citrus Fruit Consumption Could Prevent Obesity-Related Chronic Diseases

Flavanone consumption associated with lower levels of cell-damage markers.

Antioxidants from citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and limes, could potentially prevent the onset of chronic diseases caused by obesity, a recent study found.

Fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids, a group of phytonutrients or plant chemicals. Flavanones are a specific type of flavonoid found in citrus fruits, and include hesperidin, eriocitrin, and eriodictyol, according to a study presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

“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 researcher Paula S. Ferreira.

Patients with obesity have an increased risk of developing heart disease, liver disease, and type 2 diabetes, likely due to oxidative stress and inflammation, according to the study. Flavanones have been known to lower oxidative stress in living animal models, and in vitro.

Patients with obesity have a large accumulation of fat cells that create excessive reactive oxygen species, damaging cells. These patients also have enlarged fat cells that can cause even higher levels of oxidative stress.

Increased stress can prevent the body from fighting off oxidative stress molecules with antioxidants, according to the study. In the study, researchers aimed to analyze the effects of flavanones found in citrus fruits.

The mice were fed 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. Researchers found that mice fed a high-fat non-flavanone diet had an increase in thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS), which are cell-damage markers, by 80% in the blood and 57% in the liver, compared with mice fed a standard diet, according to the study.

They also found that mice fed hesperidin, eriocitrin, and eriodictyol decreased TBARS levels by 50%, 57%, and 64% in the liver, respectively, compared with mice fed the high-fat non-flavanone diet. Mice that received hesperidin and eriodictyol had a reduction in fat accumulation and liver damage, as well.

Mice treated with eriocitrin and eriodictyol were seen to have a reduction in TBARS levels in the blood by 48% and 47%, respectively, compared with mice on the high-fat non-flavanone diet.

“Our studies did not show any weight loss due to the citrus flavanones,” said lead researcher Thais B. Cesar, PhD. “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.”

Future studies will examine the different health effects between administering flavanones through fruit juice, eating fruits, or creating an antioxidant pill. Researchers plan to explore their findings in humans, according to the study.

“This study also suggests that consuming citrus fruits probably could have beneficial effects for people who are not obese, but have diets rich in fats, putting them at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and abdominal obesity,” Ferreira concluded.