The Sour (And Sweet) Health Benefits of Citrus

It's perhaps one of the most common household cures for the common cold: vitamin C.

Most often administered in the form of citruses, like oranges, grapefruits, or citrus juices, most people have heard the good word behind benefits of citrus fruits, both in combating the cold and helping prevent the cold. But when it comes to the science behind the vitamin, the research is inconsistent. Several studies argue the prophylactic effects are minute, if any. And, despite this author's own preference for whole food, more natural solutions to the body's ailments, it's always best to look to scientifically demonstrated evidence.

Sour grapes. Or, in this case, oranges.

But that's not to say citrus fruits aren't a powerful source of nutrition that support a spectrum of impressive health benefits. In fact, while they may not be the cure-all some tout them to be for the common cold, citrus fruits may have farther reaching benefits, even potentially affecting the body's ability to combat more severe illness, like cancer.

Vitamin C, Potassium, and More

Let's start at the beginning: the nutritional profile.

Most notably, citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C is considered an essential nutrient for human means, meaning it's required for normal bodily function but we're unable to naturally produce or synthesize vitamin C. Vitamin C protects the body from free radicals, and its also required in the synthesis of collagen, which helps wounds heal and holds blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, and bones together. For humans, we need to find good dietary sources of vitamin C, which generally isn't difficult (there's little vitamin C deficiency in the United States). In the past,

Beyond vitamin C, citrus fruits are also good sources of folate and potassium. Folate is a B vitamin that's undergone extensive research in recent years, and has been linked to healthy nervous system functioning, specifically in its role with messaging molecules that send signals throughout the body; vitamin B is vital to the integrity of genetic material.

Potassium is a type of electrolyte, and it too is required for the body to work normally; it helps move nutrients into cells, as well as move waste products out of cells. It's an essential mineral for the function of nerves, heart contraction, and some enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism (carbs are one of the main macronutrients we consume, and often represents a majority of American diets).

If that wasn't enough good news, consider this: adding a bit of citrus to your next cup of green tea (yup, tea) can help give staying power to antioxidants. Catechins, found in green tea, are a type of phenol and antioxidant, and while they display health-promoting qualities, like reduced risk of cancer, heart attack, and stroke, they are relatively unstable in non-acidic environments (like our intestines). However, when citrus juices are added, catechins are recovered more than five times the normal amount; for the two most abundant catechins in green tea, vitamin C was found to increased recovery by sixfold and 13-fold, respectively.

Citrus Bioflavonoids

In addition providing a rich nutrient profile (and boosting our antioxidant recovery in tea), citruses are also an abundant of bioflavonoids.

Bioflavonoids, or flavonoids, are not required in the body and may improve health. Currently, citrus bioflavonoids are used to "treat diseases of the blood vessels and lymph system, including hemorrhoids, chronic venous insufficiency, leg ulcers, easy bruising, nosebleeds, and lymphedema following breast cancer surgery." They are said to work by acting as antioxidants, but also strengthen the walls of blood vessels. However, it's important to note that bioflavonoids as a supplement are extracted from citrus fruits, as the fruits naturally vary widely in their contraction and type of flavonoid contained.

Don't Forget Your Citrus

While having an orange or two may not help combat your sniffly nose, research has demonstrated that the complete nutritional profile of citrus fruits is one that should be paid attention to in your diet. If nothing else, it reinforces the adage that argues you should keep your diet colorful, varied, and full of natural whole foods.