Mangosteen: The Asian Superfruit that Snuffs Out Inflammation?
By now, the story sounds familiar…
An exotic fruit, found mainly in Asia, used for centuries as a folk medicine is said to cure many modern ailments, and Westerners now have the opportunity to benefit from this so-called super fruit’s powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which purportedly do everything from reducing cancer risk and warding off cardiovascular disease, to easing arthritis and preventing acne.
But – of course –this magical fruit is usually only sold in the form of juice, supplements, and other products pushed by multilevel marketers and other companies who may be more interested in making a quick buck than improving health.
This description could fit any number of trendy health products on the market today. But, in this case, I’m referring to one of the latest “super fruits” to attract our attention.
A Royal History…
Mangosteen is a tropical fruit native to Asia. It’s been used for centuries in India, Thailand, China, and other countries as both a culinary treat and a traditional medicine.
The fresh fruit is typically consumed as a dessert, while the hard rind is ground into a powder and used as a poultice or tea to treat a variety of health concerns, including diarrhea, chronic pain, skin problems, and infection. References to the medicinal use of mangosteen appear in literature as early as the year 600 AD.
By the 1800s, mangosteen had made an appearance in Europe, with Queen Victoria offering knighthood to any subject who could bring her a fresh mangosteen fruit. No one succeeded, probably because it was nearly impossible to preserve the fruit during the weeks-long journey from Asia. Because of the Queen’s quest, the fruit achieved the title “Queen of Fruits,” a name still used around the globe.
Yet it has only been relatively recently that scientists in the West have turned their attention to the potential benefits of mangosteen.
A Fantastic Fruit?
Early research suggested that the rind of the mangosteen contains the compounds alpha-mangostin, beta-mangostin, garcinone B, and garcinone E, which are collectively called xanthones. In the laboratory xanthones have been shown to have potent antioxidant effects.
In fact, almost all of the evidence for mangosteen’s health effects comes from lab and animal studies.
For example, test-tube studies have identified anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiseptic properties in mangosteen.
But xanthones may not be the only source of these effects. Some of mangosteen’s medicinal properties may be attributed to compounds called tannins in the fruit’s rind, which also have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and astringent properties.
It certainly sounds promising.
But how do these lab findings translate in humans?
Despite a recent flurry of interest in mangosteen, the evidence is still less than impressive – at least in people.
In the lab, mangosteen extract inhibits the growth of acne-causing bacteria. But it has not been tested on people to determine whether it can help prevent this skin condition.
Studies of human cells suggest that the xanthones in mangosteen may inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer, liver cancer, squamous cell cancer, melanoma, and leukemia – and some studies in mice support these findings.1,2,3,4 But, again, there’s no good evidence that mangosteen prevents cancer in people.5 In fact, scientists have warned that cancer patients should use caution before consuming mangosteen products, which they worry could potentially interact with cancer treatments.6
Don’t get me wrong.
There are a few small clinical studies of mangosteen. In one, published in 2009, researchers gave 59 healthy adults either a mangosteen product or a placebo. After 30 days, they found that people who took mangosteen had a significantly improved immune response compared to those who took the placebo. Mangosteen also appeared to reduce levels of C-reactive protein, or CRP, a marker of inflammation.7
Likewise, another randomized controlled study, of 40 obese men and women, found that those who drank 18 ounces a day of a proprietary mangosteen juice blend called XanGo Juice, had lower levels of CRP than those who drank a placebo juice.8
But do such studies mean that mangosteen products are worth the cost?
Keep in Mind…
Today, mangosteen’s fruit, rind, and pulp are pureed into juices, supplements, and other products, which are typically sold through independent distributors, although you can also find mangosteen online and at health-food stores.
And, like many multilevel marketers, mangosteen’s distributors are likely to talk up the many purported health benefits of the fruit, rather than focus on what the science actually shows.
The truth is, mangosteen is promising – but that’s all.
If you’re still willing to part with some cash in exchange for the extract of this “super fruit”, you should be aware of some possible downsides.
Mangosteen can cause side effects such as joint pain, headaches, stomach upset, loose stools, muscle aches, and insomnia. It can also trigger mild allergic reactions – skin redness, swelling, itching, and rash – in some people.
Plus, the xanthones in mangosteen may interfere with blood clotting, so you should avoid it if you take warfarin (Coumadin) or other anticoagulant drugs.
Mangosteen may also increase red cell mass, so it should not be used by people diagnosed with polycythemia rubra vera, a rare condition in which a person produces too many red blood cells.
Plus, there’s another issue. Fruit juice in general tends to be high in sugar. And that means that drinking large amounts of it can spike your blood sugar, which over time can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes – another reason to avoid mangosteen juice.
For all these reasons, I’d take a pass on mangosteen juice and supplements until we have more information about their true health benefits.
Of course, you could eat mangosteen as a whole fruit. Although fresh mangosteen was banned in the U.S. for years due to concerns that it might harbor the Asian fruit fly, they’ve been available in this country since 2007.
Eating moderate amounts of fresh mangosteen might impart someof the purported benefits found in its flesh and pulp. But you won’t get the potentially beneficial compounds in its hard rind which is inedible – and you should expect to shell out significant cash for this pricey fruit.
While you may not get the same xanthones from eating other fruits and vegetables, you will get a whole spectrum other anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, such as vitamin C in citrus fruits, carotenes in brightly colored squash and carrots, and polyphenols in grapes – all of which have been shown to help reduce the risk of a slew of chronic diseases.
If you’re looking for powerful anti-inflammatory or antioxidant supplements, try other natural remedies out there that have similar, and proven, benefits. If you want to ease inflammation, for instance, supplements like fish oil and turmeric have been shown in many clinical studies to do just that.
And remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
1Matsumoto K, Akao Y, Kobayashi E, et al. Induction of aptosis by xanthones from mangosteen in human leukemia cell lines. J Nat Prod 2003;66:1124-7.
2Ho CK, Huang YL, Chen CC. Garcinone E, a xanthone derivative, has potent cytotoxic effect against hepatocellular carcinoma cell lines. Planta Med 2002;68:975-9.
3Wang JJ, Sanderson BJ, Zhang W. Significant anti-invasive activities of α-mangostin from the mangosteen pericarp on two human skin cancer cell lines. Anticancer Res. 2012 Sep;32(9):3805-16.
4Wang JJ, Shi QH, Zhang W, et al. Anti-skin cancer properties of phenolic-rich extract from the pericarp of mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana Linn.). Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Sep;50(9):3004-13.
5Watanapokasin R, Jarinthanan F, Jerusalmi A, et al. Potential of xanthones from tropical fruit mangosteen as anti-cancer agents: caspase-dependent apoptosis induction in vitro and in mice. Appl Biochem Biotechnol. 2010 Oct;162(4):1080-94.
6Yeung S. Mangosteen for the cancer patient: facts and myths. J Soc Integr Oncol. 2006 Summer;4(3):130-4.
7Tang YP, Li PG, Kondo M, et al. Effect of a mangosteen dietary supplement on human immune function: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Med Food. 2009 Aug;12(4):755-63.
8Udani JK, Singh BB, Barrett ML, et al. Evaluation of Mangosteen juice blend on biomarkers of inflammation in obese subjects: a pilot, dose finding study. Nutr J. 2009 Oct 20;8:48.
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