Health Benefits of Mandarin Oranges (incl. Tangerines and Clementines)
What are the health benefits associated with eating mandarin oranges? How many times have you asked yourself that question when pushing your cart through the citrus fruit aisle of your local grocery store? The purpose of this article is to review some of the most interesting health benefits of mandarin oranges. The most common varieties (sub-species) of mandarin oranges are tangerines — which according to some are a closely related species rather than a sub-species — and clementines.
The mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata) resembles the common orange in shape but is smaller in size. Despite the similarities in their appearance, mandarin oranges and common oranges have distinct nutrient profiles, although there are also some similarities in this respect. The dominant flavonoids in mandarin oranges include tangeritin, hesperidin, and narirutin. Mandarins also contain plenty of vitamin C and beta-cryptoxanthin (a nutrient related to beta-carotene). The following paragraphs explain how these nutrients contribute to the health benefits of tangerines, clementines, and other mandarin oranges.
Mandarin oranges are supercharged with the phytochemical tangeretin
Tangeretin is a naturally occurring phytochemical that is concentrated in the peel of tangerines and other mandarin oranges. It is found in smaller amounts in mandarin juice and in the peels of some other citrus fruits. According to some in vitro studies, tangeritin may help prevent certain types of cancer. For instance, tangeritin has been shown to inhibit growth of leukemic cells through apoptosis (programmed cell death), while sparing normal cells1. In addition, tangeretin has been shown to protect cells against the effects of bacterial mutagens2. A mutagen is a substance or agent (physical or environmental) that induces change in the DNA (i.e. causes a genetic mutation). Mutagens are not synonymous with carcinogens; however, the ability of a substance to cause mutations and its ability to cause cancer are strongly correlated.
While research suggests that tangeretin in mandarin oranges may help prevent cancer, people who already have cancer may not reap any benefits. In fact, a diet rich in mandarin oranges may provide counteractive results in these people as tangeretin appears to interfere with some drugs, including the anti-cancer drug tamoxifen. If you are taking medications, always consult with your doctor before making any substantial dietary modifications.
Mandarins are the best source of the beauty flavonoid hesperidin
According to data provided by two citrus fruit studies published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis in 2006, mandarin oranges beat other common citrus fruits in terms of hesperidin content. Even sweet oranges and lemons — which are praised for their high concentration of hesperidin — could not beat the mandarin orange in this respect. But what exactly is hesperidin and how does it contribute to the health benefits of mandarin oranges such as tangerines and clementines?
Hesperidin is flavonoid with many functions. For instance, hesperidin acts synergistically with vitamin C — also abundant in mandarin oranges — to support healthy collagen formation. An abundance of collagen gives your skin structural support. As you age, collagen begins to break down at a rapid rate, and therefore mandarin oranges and other foods that help promote collagen formation are particularly good for (older) men and women who want to reduce wrinkles through diet.
Furthermore, hesperidin in tangerines and other mandarin oranges has strong antioxidant properties and can therefore protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals. Drugs, air pollution, illness, heavy exercising, tobacco smoke, chemicals, and UV rays from the sun all contribute to the creation of free radicals. Other antioxidant compounds present in mandarin oranges in significant amounts include beta-cryptoxanthin and narirutin.
The health benefits of hesperidin are wide-ranging
In animal models, hesperidin has also been shown to lower serum total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Evidence suggests that hesperidin may also help prevent some forms of cancer, including androgen-dependent prostate cancer and breast cancer, by inhibiting cancer cell proliferation3.
The potential cancer-preventing properties and cardiovascular health benefits of mandarin oranges such as tangerines are not only linked to their high concentration of hesperidin. Mandarines are loaded with vitamin C which is an effective natural weapon against degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Vitamin C has been shown to boost the HDL cholesterol ('good cholesterol') levels, control high blood pressure, and hinder the conversion of fat into plaque in the arteries. The anti-cancer activity of vitamin C relates to its ability to interfere with tumor survival and growth4.
What's more, limonene — a natural compound abundant in the rind and the white spongy part of tangerines, clementines and other mandarines — has gained attention in recent years due to its potential in preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease. Limonene has produced anti-cancer effects in animals and prevented the spread of human breast cancer in vitro. It has also been shown to act as a solvent for cholesterol.
Note: If you are taking medications and are planning on increasing your consumption of citrus fruits such as mandarines, consult with your doctor first. As explained earlier in this article, tangeritin in mandarin oranges may counteract the effects of some drugs, including the anti-cancer drug tamoxifen, and thus put your health at risk.
1. Hirano T, Abe K, Gotoh M, Oka K (1995). Citrus flavone tangeretin inhibits leukaemic HL-60 cell growth partially through induction of apoptosis with less cytotoxicity on normal lymphocytes. British Journal of Cancer, 72(6), 1380-8
2. Calomme M, Pieters L, Vlietinck A, Vanden Berghe D (1996). Inhibition of bacterial mutagenesis by Citrus flavonoids. Planta Medica, 62(3), 222-6
3. Lee CJ, Wilson L, Jordan MA, et al (2010). Hesperidin suppressed proliferations of both human breast cancer and androgen-dependent prostate cancer cells. Phytotherapy Research, 24(1), Suppl 1:S15-9
4. Kuiper C, Molenaar IG, Dachs GU, et al. (2010). Low ascorbate levels are associated with increased hypoxia-inducible factor-1 activity and an aggressive tumor phenotype in endometrial cancer. Cancer Research, 70(14), 5749-58