Since the discovery of the organic compounds essential to life known as vitamins in the early 1900s, doctors, nutritionists and scientists became interested in the role of food in health and disease. You know that fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals your body needs to function, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports on a whole other group of compounds known as phytonutrients now thought to promote good health. One type of phytonutrient known as a xanthone occurs in a variety of plants found in the rain forest, but only one food source is documented to contain xanthones. Before consuming nutritional products containing xanthones, consult your doctor.
The group of phytonutrients includes many types of compounds, some more well studied than others. Carotenoids, which include beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene, comprise the group of compounds commonly found in red and orange pigments of fruits and vegetables. Other common phytonutrients include flavonoids found in citrus fruits, tea and wine and isoflavones found in soybeans. Phytonutrients exhibit biological activity in the human body and may provide protection against certain types of illnesses. Another group of compounds called xanthones naturally occur in a variety of plants and may be responsible for the medicinal potential of the plant.
Scientists extracted two biologically active xanthone compounds from a plant found in the Madagascar rain forest known scientifically as Psorospermum cf. molluscum, according to research published in the “Journal of Natural Products.” In this study, xanthone compounds showed promise as being effective in killing tumor cells and helping repair DNA. Because this plant is not a food source, however, the xanthone compound must be isolated from the roots and wood stems. Tropical plants that belong to the group known as Garcinia also contain xanthones. Scientists have studied the extracts of the Garcinia hanburyi plant for its ability to suppress growth by inducing apoptosis, or cell death, according to research published in the "World Journal of Gastroenterology.” Although this plant is not edible, a tropical tree known as Garcinia mangostana produces a fruit used as a food source.
Garcinia mangostana produces the mangosteen fruit, crowned the queen of fruits by the people in its native land of Thailand. The people of Southeast Asia use the mangosteen for medicinal purposes; to treat diarrhea, ulcers and inflammation; and to heal wounds. More recently, since scientists discovered that the mangosteen fruit, including the juice, pulp and rind or pericarp, is a rich source of xanthones. It has become one of the three top-selling botanicals in the United States since 2007, according to information published in the “Mini Review of Organic Chemistry.” Supplements and juices made from the mangosteen fruit have not been proved to improve health, but research on mangosteen and xanthones shows that this food product may provide health benefits.
Possible Health Benefits
Information published in the “Nutrition Journal” confirms that two xanthone compounds found in the mangosteen fruit, alpha- and gamma-mangostins, show anti-inflammatory effects. By helping reduce inflammation in the body, xanthones may help reduce the risk for cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases, gastrointestinal diseases and arthritis. Another study published in the “International Journal of Molecular Sciences” reveals that the xanthones in mangosteen inhibit cell growth, a property that makes xanthones a promising agent for cancer prevention. The potential health benefits of the xanthones in the mangosteen fruit along with the presence of other nutrients, including vitamin C, iron, potassium and calcium, make this fruit a potentially healthy addition to your diet.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Phytonutrient FAQs; April 2005
- “Journal of Natural Products”; Cytotoxic Xanthones from Psorospermum Molluscum from the Madagascar Rain Forest; Leet, J. et al.; August 2010
- “World Journal of Gastroenterology”; Apoptotic Activity of Caged Xanthones from Garcinia Hanburyi in Cholangiocarcinoma Cell Lines; Hahnvajanawong, C. et al.; May 2010
- “Mini Review of Organic Chemistry”; Structural Characterization, Biological Effects, and Synthetic Studies on Xanthones from Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana), a Popular Botanical Dietary Supplement; Chin, Y. and Kinghorn, A.; November 2008
- “Nutrition Journal”; Evaluation of Mangosteen Juice Blend on Biomarkers of Inflammation in Obese Subjects: a Pilot, Dose Finding Study; Undani, J. et al.; October 2009
- “International Journal of Molecular Sciences”; Anti-Cancer Effects of Xanthones from the Pericarps of Mangosteen; Akao, Y. et al.; March 2008