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Citrus fruits are not only rich in vitamin C, but they also contain high levels of phytonutrients -- plant-based nutrients that offer additional health benefits. Among these lesser known phytonutrients are limonoids, which are responsible for the tartness and occasional bitterness of citrus fruit. These plant-based compounds also appear to have significant healing properties. Preliminary research has shown that limonoids, like vitamin C, are powerful antioxidants and may help to prevent certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.
Nutrients with proven antioxidant properties help to counteract the effects of free radicals, which are blamed for a wide variety of illnesses as well as aging-related cell deterioration. Free radicals are atoms or molecules with unpaired electrons. They are by-products of your body's energy metabolism process and thus impossible to avoid. However, a diet rich in nutrients with antioxidant properties can keep free radicals in check and avert the damage they can cause. Researchers at the Citrus Research Center of Texas A&M University conducted laboratory tests to identify citrus phytonutrients with powerful antioxidant properties. In the March 2005 issue of вЂњJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry,вЂќ they reported that two citrus limonoids -- limonin and limonin glucoside -- exhibited significant antioxidant properties.
Making the search for cancer cures more challenging are the subtle variations found within just one form of the disease. For example, not all breast cancers are created equal. Some are said to be estrogen-responsive and must be treated differently than other types of breast cancer. Researchers at Texas A&M University's Department of Horticultural Sciences conducted a laboratory experiment to see what, if any, effect limonoids isolated from a lemon had on breast cancer cells. In a 2013 issue of вЂњFood & Function,вЂќ researchers reported that 11 of the tested limonoids proved toxic to breast cancer cells that were estrogen-responsive. The limonoids also showed strong toxicity to breast cancer cells that were not estrogen-responsive but were not as universally effective against this latter group as with the estrogen-responsive cells.
In the search for weapons against obesity and other forms of metabolic dysfunction, researchers have identified a factor known as TGR5, which is activated by bile acids to increase metabolic rate and burn off excess calories and fat. Researchers in the University of Tokyo's Department of Applied Biological Chemistry discovered that a citrus limonoid known as nomilin was able to activate this TGR5 response in laboratory mice fed a high-fat diet. As a result, animals that received the nomilin supplement along with their high-fat diet had significantly lower body weight, serum glucose and serum insulin, as well as enhanced glucose tolerance, compared with mice that did not get the limonoid supplement. Researchers published their findings in the July 2011 issue of вЂњBiochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.вЂќ
Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, or EHEC, is a strain of the E. coli bacterium that can cause hemorrhaging in the intestinal tract. Researchers at Texas A&M University isolated limonoids from grapefruit to see what effect, if any, they had on these bacteria in a laboratory setting. In the June 2010 issue of вЂњInternational Journal of Food Microbiology,вЂќ researchers reported that obacunone, one of the grapefruit limonoids isolated, inhibited the spread of these bacteria. They said these findings indicate that this limonoid could serve as the basis for a new therapy to combat this strain of E. coli infection.