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An unexpected weapon against heart disease • Earth.com

By Published On: May 30, 20243.4 min readViews: 1850 Comments on An unexpected weapon against heart disease • Earth.com
Orange peels might be key to better cardiovascular health, according to new research led by the University of Florida

Heart disease, a leading cause of death, has been linked to gut bacteria that produce trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) when digesting certain nutrients. 

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Funded by a $500,000 USDA grant, a team led by Yu Wang – an associate professor of food science and human nutrition – investigated orange peel extracts for their potential to reduce TMAO production. The researchers tested both polar and nonpolar fractions of the extracts. 

“If you imagine your salad dressing, anything in the water or vinegar part are the polar fraction; anything in the oil away from water is the non-polar fraction,” explained Professor Wang. “The solvents we used were not exactly like water and oil, but they possess similar polarity.” 

The analysis revealed that the non-polar fraction effectively inhibited harmful chemical production. The scientists also identified a compound called feruloylputrescine in the polar fraction significantly inhibited the enzyme responsible for TMA production.

“This is a novel finding that highlights the previously unrecognized health potential of feruloylputrescine in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Wang.

This discovery is especially relevant given that five million tons of orange peels are produced annually in the U.S., primarily from juice production. Typically, half of these peels are used for cattle feed, while the rest is discarded. 

However, the FDA considers natural orange peel extracts safe for human consumption, opening up possibilities for repurposing them.

“These findings suggest that orange peels, often discarded as waste in the citrus industry, can be repurposed into valuable health-promoting ingredients, such as diet supplements or food ingredients,” Wang explained. 

“Our research paves the way for developing functional foods enriched with these bioactive compounds, providing new therapeutic strategies for heart health,” she concluded.

More about orange peels

Orange peels, the brightly colored outer skin of oranges, are more than just a protective covering for the juicy citrus segments inside. They contain essential oils that are responsible for their vibrant aroma and are often used in culinary dishes, cleaning products, and aromatherapy. 

Despite their bitter taste, orange peels are edible and are a rich source of dietary fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, which can provide various health benefits such as boosting the immune system and reducing the risk of certain diseases. 

They also have applications in traditional medicine and can be used in various forms such as zest, in marmalades, or as a flavor enhancer. Additionally, their natural oil extracts are commonly found in skin care products due to their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Vitamin C and heart health 

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which plays a significant role in heart health, primarily through its involvement in various biological functions. 

Blood vessels and arteries

Vitamin C helps in the production of collagen, which is crucial for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels. This is important for preventing and managing conditions like atherosclerosis where arteries stiffen due to plaque buildup.

Research suggests that vitamin C can help reduce blood pressure and the stiffness of arteries, lower the levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and improve endothelial function, which is the ability of blood vessels to dilate properly. These effects collectively help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Oxidative stress 

Moreover, vitamin C’s antioxidant properties help combat oxidative stress, which is linked to many chronic diseases including heart disease. By neutralizing free radicals, vitamin C helps protect the heart and blood vessels from damage.

Are supplements effective?

However, while a diet rich in vitamin C is associated with numerous health benefits, the effectiveness of vitamin C supplements in preventing cardiovascular disease has been debated. Some studies suggest benefits, while others show no significant reduction in heart disease risk with supplementation. 

Therefore, obtaining vitamin C from natural sources like fruits and vegetables is generally recommended over supplements for overall heart health.

The study is published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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