Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bitter Orange and Weight Loss

Bitter orange is the fruit to help you lose weight. Bitter orange extract, also known as Citrus aurantium extract, is a safe and effective supplement to help its users lose weight safely. The issues with the use of bitter orange peel as an aid to weight loss mostly have to do with its confusion with another herb, ephedra.

Until the mid-1990's, the most popular herbal weight loss formulas were based on ephedra, the Asian herb that is the natural source of ephedrine. Contrary to common belief, ephedra itself was not outlawed in the US, just the synthetic chemical, ephedrine. Most herb product manufacturers, however, chose to stay on the safe side of the law and stopped carrying products that contained either the synthetic chemical or the herb.

Some weight loss product formulators turned to bitter orange extract as a source of synephrine (also known as para-hydroxy-synephrine or p-synephrine) as a replacement for ephedrine. Synephrine has a chemical structure that is somewhat similar to ephedrine and some of the same effects on weight loss metabolism as ephedrine. It increases calorie burning, particularly the burning of fat. However, people who don't understand how the product works have given it a bad name.

Bitter Orange is Safe

Traditional Chinese Medicine has used bitter orange peel for nearly 2,000 years, usually to treat gastrointestinal complaints. Since the time of European settlement, South American curanderos and curanderas have used bitter orange primarily to treat anxiety and insomnia.

Although the chemical structures of the bitter orange chemical synephrine and ephedrine are similar, their functions in the body are very different. Ephedrine binds to receptors that activate the production of the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine in adrenal glands. The bitter orange chemical synephrine does not. Ephedrine causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure (by binding to beta-1 and beta-2 adrenoreceptors). Synephrine does not raise pulse rate or either systolic or diastolic blood pressure (because it binds to beta-3 adrenoreceptors). Ephedrine is derived from the chemical phenylpropanolamine and easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. Synephrine is derived from the chemical phenylethanolamine and does not easily cross the blood-brain barrier.

Ephedrine is soluble in fats, and binds to belly fat. Synephrine is not soluble in fat, and does not bind to belly fat. Ephedrine stimulates appetite, and synephrine reduces it. Ephedrine worsens insulin resistance. Synephrine improves it. Cardiovascular complications have been reported after the use of ephedrine. No cardiovascular complications were reported by any of the 480 participants in clinical trials, according to Dr. Sydney J. Stohs, former dean of the school of pharmacy at Creighton University.

Many articles on the Internet refer to the presence of a stimulant chemical called octopamine in bitter orange extracts and bitter orange peel. More than twenty published analytical studies have failed to find more than 1% as much octopamine as synephrine in the bitter orange samples tested, and most of the published studies found no octopamine at all. The standardized testing materials prepared by the National Institute of Standards and Technology do not contain octopamine in their product.

Bitter orange is in fact regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, under the Dietary Supplements Health and Safety Act of 1994.

Bitter Orange Is Proven to Work

There have been 12 double-blind and placebo-controlled studies involving 450 volunteers (90 of whom received a placebo). Taken together, these studies show the efficacy of bitter orange extract for losing weight. Weight loss volunteers received bitter orange extracts that were standardized to provide from 10 to 80 mg of p-synephrine every day, along with up to 704 mg of caffeine.

Not all the clinical trials of bitter orange extracts were conducted to test weight loss. Some were conducted to establish its safety. In the nine clinical trials that studied weight loss, bitter orange increased metabolic rate. It accelerated weight loss after it was taken for at least 6 weeks. And 80% of bitter orange extract users in one of the studies reported that exercise was easier when they took the herb.

The longer the herb is taken, the greater the rate of weight loss. Six-week studies usually found about a 3-pound weight loss. Eight-week studies usually found about 6 pounds of weight loss. The one 10-week study found a 10-pound weight loss, on average, for test participants taking synephrine with caffeine (in the same product). In a study conducted by Seifert and collaborators, taking synephrine standardized from bitter orange peel increased calorie burning 8% a day without increasing heart rate or blood pressure.

The effects of p-synephrine are greater in women than in men. However, men get a greater thermic effect, that is, more calorie burning, when the product is taken on an empty stomach. There were no adverse effects of the bitter orange extracts tested in any of the 12 clinical trials.

The Benefits of Bitter Orange Aren't Limited to Weight Control

Bitter orange does not just contain p-synephrine. It also contains some natural antioxidants known as flavonoids, including naringenine. In a clinical trials conducted by Dr. Stohs and collaborators, a combination of flavonoids with p-synephrine (which occurs in the fruit naturally) nearly triples calorie-burning, up to about 200 calories a day. That may not sound like a lot but it's about half a pound a week during the first six weeks the product is used, and even more later.

But that's not all. Researchers at the Robarts Research Group in London, Ontario have found that naringenin stops the process of insulin resistance in the skeletal muscles. It reduces the production of large, fluffy pieces of very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and helps muscles take glucose out of the bloodstream more efficiently. This lowers blood sugar levels and indirectly lowers triglycerides and blood pressure--at least in test animals. The benefits of bitter orange flavonoids, even without the much-discussed p-synephrine, probably go a long way toward correcting the high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and belly fat weight gain so common in middle age.

Bitter orange isn't a miracle herb. It's merely a very useful herb. Dieters still have to do the hard work of calorie restriction for their diets ultimately to work--but taking bitter orange extracts makes their task easier.

Photo credit: Bitter oranges (C. aurantium) in the Jardines del Alcázar de Sevilla, Spain. Jared Preston via Wikimedia Commons.

Citrus limetta, the Sweet Lemon Mosquitoes Hate

Imagine a lemon that tastes sweet even without sugar. And that can be used to make a natural mosquito treatment after it has been juiced to make lemonade.

There's just such a lemon known as Citrus limetta, also known as sweet lemon, sweet lime, and Mediterranean sweet lemon in English, and as limu shirin in Iran, moosambi (Hindi) or sathkudi (Tamil) in India, and sometimes as mosambi or musambi in international trade.

While this "sweet lemon" is something of an acquired taste, it is sweet enough to be used to make lemonade without sugar in much of north Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. In the native Citrus limetta, short-lived flowers of the sweet lemon are white, about an inch (20 to 30 mm) wide. The skin of the ripe fruit is slightly bumpy and light yellow, and the pulp is greenish-yellow. Sweet lemon juice is a mixture of sweet and sour, more sweet than sour.

The native sweet lemon is propagated by seed--although I haven't yet had a lot of success with this. It's a lot easier just to buy a Millsweet Acidless Limetta, a hybridized limetta tree.

The difference between the hybrid and the native plant is the color of the blossoms and the fruit--both purple. In other respects, the Millsweet variety is just like the native plant.

Citrus limetta is the tree you want if you want to make your own sugar-free lemonade from your own lemons. But the additional benefit of sweet lemon fruit is that the rind can be used to make a natural mosquito killer after the pulp has been used for juice.

Citrus limetta extracts are used as a mosquito larvacide. They poured into standing water, such as unused swimming pools, stagnant puddles too large to be drained, and other small bodies of stagnant water to kill mosquitoes still in the larval stage.

The extracts won't kill fish or amphibians, or pets or wildlife that stop to drink. The most potent mosquito larvacide would be made by soaking the peel in hexane, boiling off the hexane, and putting the extract in standing water.

I have an easier method. Just toss the used sweet lemon halves in the water you don't want to hatch mosquitoes. It's not 100% effective, but it's a great way to recycle your lemons after your make your sugar-free lemonade. There is just one caveat for using Citrus limetta to make sugar-free lemonade.

Studies in Sudan, where the fruit is very popular, have found that the juice interferes with the human body's ability to absorb chloroquine, a standard prophylactic treatment for malaria. Don't drink sweet lemon beverages when you are traveling to locations where malaria is endemic, unless you are taking a different kind of anti-malarial medication. Enjoy sweet lemon from your own garden--or your local greengrocers--at home.

 Photo by James Steakley, taken at Missouri Botanical Garden. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Ten Things Everyone Needs to Know About the Health Benefits of Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice

Just about everyone knows the basics about the nutritional benefits of orange juice. Orange juice is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, thiamin (vitamin B1), and folic acid. It's a great way to get quick energy.

And while orange juice is acidic when you drink it, it alkalizes the urine to relieve some of the stress caused by eating too much protein and other "acidifying" factors in your diet. But the health benefits of orange juice are not limited to the basic nutrition facts. Orange juice has a number of surprising benefits, including these ten:

1. Freshly squeezed orange juice lowers blood pressure.

One of the basic orange juice nutrition facts is that orange juice is high in potassium. The well-publicized DASH study found that all kinds of fruits and vegetables that are high in potassium lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, but the benefits of orange juice don't stop there.

A team of researchers at the Unité de Nutrition Humaine at Clermont Université in France found that orange juice supplies a plant chemical called hesperidin that reduces inflammation in the linings of blood vessels. Drinking a small glass (about 200 ml or a little less than a cup) of orange juice every day for 4 weeks lowers diastolic blood pressure (the second blood pressure number), especially in middle-aged, overweight men.

There is more hesperidin in freshly squeezed orange juice, especially if you press down hard as you hold the oranges in your citrus juicer, than in either factory-frozen or canned orange juice.

2. Freshly squeezed orange juice, like all fruit juice in its natural state, is naturally no sugar added orange juice.

Most North Americans and Europeans would never think of adding sugar to orange juice. In some Asian and South American countries, however, the most popular brands of orange juice are literally more sugar than juice. Sometimes there is no orange juice in the product at all! If you want to be sure you are drinking low-sugar orange juice, squeeze it yourself or watch it being squeezed.

What about the fructose in orange juice? High-fructose corn syrup has given fructose a bad name. The things to know about high-fructose corn syrup are that it is "high" in fructose but actually is a mixture of glucose and fructose.

In small amounts, up to about 200 calories a day (maybe two glasses of juice a day), fructose in fruit and fruit juices does not have the detrimental effects of high fructose corn syrup. The liver is able to store the fructose released from the juice without interfering with the storage of fats or the manufacture of glycogen as long as the total amount of fructose consumed is low, at natural levels. Drink freshly squeezed orange juice, but don't eat baked goods and cereals made with high-fructose corn syrup.

3. Drinking freshly squeezed orange juice with your morning coffee can keep you from getting "buzzed."

Caffeinated coffee is a stimulant. Freshly squeezed--but not frozen or canned--orange juice is a calmative. Squeezing the peel by hand releases a calmative chemical called linalool. This is the calmative agent in lavender.

Drinking coffee and orange juice at the same time takes the "edge off" drinking to much coffee and reduces jittery feelings, anxiety, and surges in blood pressure. Pulp in orange juice increases flavor. Pulp in freshly squeezed orange juice increases nutritional value, too.

When it comes to buying orange juice, pulp or no pulp is one of the major decisions to make for choosing among brands. The reason manufacturers add pulp to canned or bottled orange juice is to make the juice taste and feel more natural.

Pulp traps some of the flavor chemicals, holding monoterpenes, sequiterpenes, and acetaldehydes in the juice rather than allowing them to escape into that little layer of air at the top of the container. But if you drink fresh-squeezed orange juice, you don't have to worry about adding flavor to your OJ. It's already there. And you also get more hesperidin and linalool, too.

5. You can freeze freshly squeezed orange juice safely with a minimum loss of flavor if you follow certain precautions.

People who make their own orange juice typically have times when they simply have more oranges than they can use right away. Once you freeze orange juice, it is no longer "fresh," but it still can be tasty.

The key to preserving the taste of freshly squeezed orange juice is not to strain it before putting it in the freezer. The fibers in the juice hold flavor chemicals in place until it is thawed.

The molds and fungi that sometimes contaminate kitchens are killed by freezing fresh orange juice at 0 degrees F (about -20 degrees C) for at least one month. Always thaw frozen juices in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.

How long is fresh orange juice good? Off flavors are usually caused by the growth of microorganisms. It is best to drink orange juice within 48 hours of squeezing, storing it in a covered container in the refrigerator. If you can't drink all your juice before the third day, freeze any leftovers.

6. Certain varieties of oranges are better when you make fresh orange juice.

Hamlin oranges come early in the season. They are the oranges most likely to survive unusually cold winters, but they produce pale and relatively flavorless juice.

Navel oranges have no seeds, so there is less clean up after juicing. Their flavor, however, is usually considered inferior to Valencia oranges, the variety most often used for juicing. If the growing season has been usually warm (more specifically, if summer nights have been unusually warm), the Valencia's peel may be streaked with green but the juice will be the familiar bright orange most people prefer.

Red-fleshed oranges are harder to come by but they make a superior, healthy breakfast juice. The anthocyanins in that make the orange red help reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure, but these helpful plant chemicals break down if the juice is stored. Juices from freshly squeezed red oranges and blood oranges contain the most anthocyanins.

7. If you drink freshly squeezed orange juice, you'll get more benefits from your vitamin C supplement. If you take vitamin C supplements, you will get more benefits from freshly squeezed orange juice.

Freshly squeezed orange juice is one of the best sources of vitamin C, but vitamin C works in concert with plant chemical cofactors such as the previously mentioned hesperidin, diosmin,and other antioxidants. For some of the most important applications of vitamin C, preventing scurvy, for example, the vitamin is only effective when the diet also provides flavonoid cofactors that are found in abundance in fresh orange juice. 

There are other good fruit drinks, of course, and there is no reason you should not enjoy them, too, as long as your total consumption of fruit and fruit juices is kept in moderation. But all the benefits of oranges are available from home-squeezed juice, with none of the additives or the chemicals that leach from plastic containers.

8. Freshly squeezed orange juice is free of chemical additives.

One of the secrets of the orange juice industry that recently has come out is that some manufacturers of "100% natural" orange juice take the oxygen--and flavor--out of juice so they can store it in large steel vats for up to 18 months. They put the flavor back into the juice with "flavor packs" of chemicals extracted from orange peel.

Although the flavor packs are "natural," why not drink orange juice that is "naturally natural" by squeezing your own?

9. Freshly squeezed orange juice has about 10% more vitamin C than traditionally heat-treated orange juice.

Storing orange juice on the grocer's shelf for weeks or even months requires pasteurization. About 10% of the vitamin C in juice is destroyed in the process. This vitamin C is preserved when you squeeze it yourself.]

10.  Freshly squeezed red orange juice reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke--in as little as seven days.

Researchers at the University of Palermo in Italy, reporting their findings in the May 2012 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that drinking 2 cups (about 500 ml) of red orange every day provided a variety of anti-inflammatory nutrients that are critical in reducing cardiovascular risk.

These red orange antioxidants lowered C-reactive protein, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and interleukin-6. After just seven days of drinking red orange juice every day, volunteers in the study experienced normalized blood flow, arteries having the "stretch" they need to deal with stress.

One other thing will help you get maximum flavor at minimum expense when you squeeze your own orange juice. Be sure to use a citrus juicer, not a macerating juicer. Use the kind of juicer that extracts juice from oranges you slice and half and hold on the machine, not a macerating machine that grinds up the peels, too.

Photo credit: Rick Audet of San Francisco, California (via Wikimedia Commons).

Eat Tomatoes and Carrots for Healthy Bones?

We all know about calcium for bone health. But did you know that tomatoes and carrots--especially when added to a healthy green salad--also help build healthy bones?

It is a given that calcium is essential for healthy bones. If you are a fan of organic veggies, you also know that leafy greens are rich in both calcium and the vitamin K the body needs to use the calcium provided by various foods. But did you know that eating tomatoes--and carrots--helps your body maintain the levels of vitamin K needed to manufacture the osteocalcin that helps bones absorb the calcium they need to stay strong?

The peculiar thing about vitamin K is that how much vitamin K you get from food isn't the only thing that determines how much vitamin K gets to your bones. Everybody benefits from eating lettuce and other leafy greens. But the body needs (1) lycopene (2) beta-carotene and (3) gamma-tocopherol to keep vitamin K in circulation.

Vitamin K has to have its cofactors. Lycopene is found in tomatoes. Beta-carotene is found in carrots. Gamma-tocopherol is a form of vitamin E that most Americans get mostly from salad dressings. All three nutrients as well as vitamin K can only be absorbed into the bloodstream with a little help from fat, although as little as a teaspoon (5 ml or 5 grams) of fat with the salad is enough.

What are the implications for healthy eating from organic gardens? When you're enjoying tomatoes, eat a little salad, too. Or when you're making fresh salads from your organic lettuce, add a little carrot and a few slices of tomato. Building healthy bones isn't all about calcium. It takes a combination of healthy foods to give bones the boost they need to prevent fractures and breaks.

Photo credit: National Cancer Institute, via Wikimedia Commons.

Growing Healthier Salad Greens Organically

Just about every gardener and grower knows that fertilizing lettuce, spinach, and other salad greens with nitrogen increases crop yields. But does dumping nitrogen on salad crops increase or decrease their nutritional content? And should if it does, should the nitrogen come from chemical or organic sources?

When the grower's objective is to produce leafy greens with the highest possible vitamin C content, there is no doubt that nitrogen fertilizer is a no-no in the week before the greens are harvested. Leaves use up vitamin C in the process of making the hormones that power mitosis, the creation of new cells. If a plant is rapidly growing because it has just been fertilized with nitrogen, it has to use vitamin C to use the nitrogen to make the proteins that become new leaf matter.

A quick spray of nitrogen on salad vegetables a few days before harvest may increase the weight of the crop, but it won't increase the nutritional quality of the crop. Darker salad greens such as Swiss chard (also known as silverbeet) and red-leafed lettuce and colorful cool-weather vegetables such as purple cabbage, purple potatoes, and purple cauliflower concentrate another group of antioxidants known as the anthocyanins.

In leaves, these red and purple plant compounds help leaves capture sunlight, and they have a variety of well-known benefits for people. Plants make both anthocyanins and vitamin C from simple sugars, but usually the leaf doesn't "run out" of the carbohydrates it needs to make these healthy antioxidants.

The problem, from the standpoint of growing vegetables with maximum human nutritional content, is that the anthocyanins are also used up rapidly when a plant is growing rapidly. Too much nitrogen fertilizer too close to harvest just isn't the best way to grow veggies with maximum nutrition. But the kind of nitrogen fertilizer used before harvest makes a difference, too.

 The standard advice to gardeners and growers is that is OK to use a chemical nitrogen fertilizer on fast-growing annual plants. After all, lettuce and spinach and chard are in the ground and harvested in less than two months, so how much harm could a little chemical nitrogen fertilizer do?

It turns out, a lot. Salad greens do grow when they are fertilized with chemical nitrogen fertilizers. So do soil bacteria. If you are concerned about E. coli splashing up from manures, immature compost, or runoff from your neighbors, chemical nitrogen fertilizers applied to the soil aren't working with you. They are working against you.

Chemical nitrogen fertilizers also raise the pH of the soil and disrupt the growth of fungi. During cool-weather, this may not be a major problem. But should drought strike, then the soil will have been deprived of the fungi it needs to hold water and conduct it to the roots of slower-growing plants.

There is a way around these concerns. If you are going to do a quick fix with nitrogen, then should consider making an exception to the rule of feeding soil, not plants. For a burst of growth in salad greens about half way between germination and harvest, feed the plants, not the soil.

The way to do this is with liquid, foliar feeding--preferably with products that have nitrogen in its nitrate form. This gives the plant the nitrogen it needs to make the amino acids it uses to build its proteins, but it also gives the plant a chance to reestablish its stores of antioxidants and vitamin C.

Foliar feeding is especially useful if you are gardening or farming on clay soils. It helps to do foliar applications of sulfates and phosphates, too, because the negative charges on the fine particles on clay and humus repel the negatively charged nitrates, sulfates, and phosphates out of the soil. There's no such problem when fertilizer is applied directly to the plant.

And if "chemicals" are a problem for you, there are many fine products based on plant and fish extracts that feed your greens so they deliver maximum nutrition. These natural products provide an additional component that most nitrogen fertilizers don't.

Derived from living plants or animals, they give your plants a dose of the amino acid glutamine. The glutamine helps your plants use nitrogen more efficiently, as does selenium in the selenite (but not selenate) form. And if you don't like the odor of natural products, there you have a great way to know when to apply them. Never put fertilizer on a plant if it would result in a stinky salad. Always use nitrogen at least a week before harvest.

Photo Credit: Chaojoker (own work), via Wikimedia Commons.