Citrus fruit antioxidants may prevent chronic diseases caused by obesity

A class antioxidants found in oranges, limes, and lemons may help prevent the harmful effects of obesity in mice fed a Western high-fat diet, researchers find.

More than one third of all adults in the United States are obese. Obesity is a significant factor in increasing the risk of developing heart disease, liver disease, and type 2 diabetes, potentially due to oxidative stress and inflammation.

Citrus fruits contain several antioxidants that may prevent a range of health concerns.

According to a recent article exploring the health benefits of popular foods, citrus fruits may lower ischemic stroke risk, maintain blood pressure, and support heart health.

Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which are the largest group of phytonutrients with more than 6,000 types. Phytonutrients along with carotenoids are responsible for the vivid colors of fruits and vegetables. There are several groups of flavonoids, including anthocyanidins, flavanols, flavones, flavanones and isoflavones. Flavanones, such as hesperidin, eriocitrin, and eriodictyol, are abundant in citrus fruits and have been associated with lowering oxidative stress in vitro and animal models.

Paula Ferreira is a researcher at the Universidade Estadual Paulista in Brazil. She did the research and spoke of the results. “… [W]e can use citrus flavanones, a class of antioxidants, to prevent or delay chronic diseases caused by obesity in humans.”

Ferreira and colleagues aimed to observe the effects of citrus flavanones on mice with no genetic modifications that were fed a high-fat diet. The team, at Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP) in Brazil, treated 50 mice with flavanones - hesperidin, eriocitrin, and eriodictyol - found in oranges, lemons, and limes.

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 percent in the blood and 57 percent in the liver compared to mice on a standard diet. But hesperidin, eriocitrin and eriodictyol decreased the TBARS levels in the liver by 50 percent, 57 percent and 64 percent, 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 percent and 47 percent, 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 said, “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.”

Researchers now plan to conduct human studies. Researchers want to see whether it is healthier to give citrus flavanones in juice or pill form.

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