Anti-inflammatory effects of dragon fruit
Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, is a brightly coloured fruit with many of the health benefits that are looked for in a pricey health supplement. Packed with fibre and antioxidants, dragon fruit has a bright pink outer skin and either white or pink inner flesh with a sweet taste similar to pear or kiwi. The lifestyles and well-being choices of the growing population coincide with a rise in diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Now more than ever, there is a need to implement positive changes to improve health and well-being.
This article will explore the anti-inflammatory effects of dragon fruit and how this easily accessible fruit can be enjoyed along with some powerful health benefits. Dragon fruit can be easily included in the diet by adding it to smoothies or yoghurt bowls or simply enjoying it on its own.
Don’t underestimate the power of both fruit and vegetables - they contain nutrients which are required to live a healthy life whilst also decreasing the chance of developing a range of health disorders such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.1 Dragon fruit contains a diverse range of macronutrients, micronutrients, and antioxidants that help reduce inflammation. Dragon fruit is naturally fat-free with high levels of carbohydrates, which are required to maintain good energy levels within the body. In a 170-gram serving, dragon fruit offers 2 grams of protein and 5 grams of fibre, which are necessary for good gut health and decrease the risk of colon cancer. Dragon fruit also contains many micronutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron and magnesium. Magnesium lowers inflammation by reducing the production of a pro-inflammatory mediator called interleukin-6 (IL-6), which signals to the immune system that there is a threat, such as an infection, but when overactive, IL-6 can trigger unnecessary inflammatory responses.2
Free radicals in the body induce oxidative stress, and antioxidants are chemicals that work to remove them.3 Oxidative stress damages cells and results in inflammation; by eliminating oxidative stress through antioxidant consumption, there will be decreased inflammation]]. Dragon fruit has been found to be high in phytochemicals, which have powerful antioxidant properties to protect cells from free radicals.
Inflammation: Causes and health implications
- Inflammation is like the body’s police force; it is triggered in response to injuries, infections or germs and aims to eliminate them from the body. Inflammation is produced by the immune system after detecting a threat and involves a vast array of immune cells. There are two main forms of inflammation: acute and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation is a rapid response but lasts only for a short time, whereas chronic inflammation comes on gradually but lasts for a longer period, sometimes lasting several years. Chronic inflammation is related to a range of health problems which can eventually lead to major health disorders, including cell damage, which can escalate to cancer in severe cases.4Chronic inflammation can be caused by Excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet or lack of exercise5
- Inability to clear a response to a previous infection
- Autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, Recurring periods of acute inflammation4
Chronic inflammation can have severe negative effects on the body and can impact all tissues, organs and systems. Many diseases can stem from chronic inflammation. These include increasing blood pressure, stroke, cancer and joint damage.
Anti-inflammatory compounds in dragon fruit
Dragon fruit contains a plethora of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which can all have a positive effect in minimising inflammation in the body.
Polyphenols are another compound abundant in dragon fruit which can have an astounding effect on the body.6 Studies have shown that a diet with high levels of polyphenols can increase the chance of protection against a range of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes by exhibiting an antioxidant effect. This means that these compounds will remove free radicals in the body, causing less cellular damage and, therefore, less inflammation. The antioxidant compounds within the fruit, namely quercetin, are linked to anti-ageing, which not only means fewer wrinkles but can have an astounding effect on the nervous system by slowing the damaging effect of ageing on nerve cells in the brain, improving brain function later in life.7 Quercetin also helps protect the body’s cells from environmental stresses, such as smoking, and biological damage, such as oxidative stress.
Health benefits of dragon fruit and its compounds on diseases
A mostly plant-based diet is rich in polyphenols, which can have many positive effects on health and the body. Dragon fruit has been shown to be beneficial in managing a range of diseases and conditions.
There is evidence to suggest that increasing the intake of polyphenols can have amazing benefits on cardiovascular health. Atherosclerosis is a disorder in which platelets clump together and are deposited in arteries. This decreases the space within arteries in which the blood can pass through, therefore increasing blood pressure. Over time, these deposits can detach from the arterial wall and travel to smaller arteries, where they can potentially block blood flow entirely and cause a heart attack or stroke. Polyphenols can stop platelets from clumping together and forming blood clots whilst also increasing the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol, which can remove parts of the atherosclerotic clump to improve blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart attack or stroke.7
Regulation of diabetes
A polyphenol-rich diet has been shown to improve the breakdown of carbohydrates in the body as well as improve how glucose is used and disposed of in the body. This is fundamental in helping to prevent diabetes, particularly Type 2 Diabetes. Quercetin, which dragon fruit is rich in, has been found to be beneficial in individuals who are at higher risk of diabetes or who are prediabetic.8 This is due to the fact that quercetin decreases blood glucose levels and also increases insulin levels, the hormone that helps regulate blood sugar.8
Immune system support
The immune system stimulates inflammation when there is a suspected danger. However, the immune system can get overstimulated and create inflammation where it is not necessary. Essentially, polyphenols act as an ‘off’ switch to the immune system, which can help prevent it from becoming activated when it shouldn’t. Polyphenols are currently being looked at for their profound ability to halt or slow the development of inflammatory conditions, including osteoarthritis or diabetes. In addition to other preventative methods, polyphenols can be easily added to the diet to help keep the immune system at peace and fight against and resist inflammatory conditions.
Joint health and dragon fruit
The compounds found in dragon fruit, in particular polyphenols, have a great effect on the joints. Osteoarthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition that causes the irreversible breakdown of the whole joint, including the cartilage, muscle and ligaments that support the joint. This creates an inflammatory environment and can be very painful. A particular polyphenol found in dragon fruit, quercetin, has been shown to slow the progression of osteoarthritis by interfering with the immune system and stopping it from making pro-inflammatory molecules.9
Polyphenols in targeting cancer
Dragon fruit, as mentioned before, is high in antioxidants like polyphenols. Amazingly, these compounds have shown anti-cancer effects, including the removal of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds and cancer cells and the overall slowing of cancer progression.10 With this information about these compounds, treatment for cancer could potentially be improved by adding polyphenols and other antioxidants to the diet.
Inflammation is a good thing – it helps your body stay clear of any unwanted illnesses, but it can also be the root cause of many diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer and stroke. The main causes of inflammation are poor diet, lack of exercise and alcohol consumption. Chronic inflammation can also stem from an inability to remove a previous bug or infection, causing the immune system to stay in an active state. Eating foods rich in vitamins, minerals and especially antioxidants like polyphenols will set the body up for success when combatting or trying to prevent inflammation.
Dragon fruit has high levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, in particular polyphenols, which have astounding effects throughout the body, such as anti-ageing, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer and also improving cardiovascular health, which can lead to better blood pressure. The polyphenols found in dragon fruit have astounding effects on health, which include the slowing of cancer progression or even the prevention of cancer altogether. Polyphenols can also help stop chronic inflammation from occurring by acting as an ‘off’ switch towards immune cells.
- Nishikito DF, Borges ACA, Laurindo LF, Otoboni AMMB, Direito R, Goulart RDA, et al. Anti-Inflammatory, Antioxidant, and Other Health Effects of Dragon Fruit and Potential Delivery Systems for Its Bioactive Compounds. Pharmaceutics. 2023;15(1):159. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9861186/
- Sugimoto J, Romani AM, Valentin-Torres AM, Luciano AA, Ramirez Kitchen CM, Funderburg N, et al. Magnesium decreases inflammatory cytokine production: a novel innate immunomodulatory mechanism. J Immunol. 2012;188(12):6338-46. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3884513/
- Conner EM, Grisham MB. Inflammation, free radicals, and antioxidants. Nutrition. 1996;12(4):274-7. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900796000008?via%3Dihub
- Pahwa R, Goyal A, Jialal I. Chronic Inflammation. StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL)2023. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
- Wang HJ, Zakhari S, Jung MK. Alcohol, inflammation, and gut-liver-brain interactions in tissue damage and disease development. World J Gastroenterol. 2010;16(11):1304-13. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2842521/
- Paśko P, Galanty A, Zagrodzki P, Luksirikul P, Barasch D, Nemirovski A, Gorinstein S. Dragon Fruits as a Reservoir of Natural Polyphenolics with Chemopreventive Properties. Molecules. 2021;26(8):2158. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8070077/
- Pandey KB, Rizvi SI. Plant Polyphenols as Dietary Antioxidants in Human Health and Disease. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2009;2(5):270-8. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835915/
- Deepika, Maurya PK. Health Benefits of Quercetin in Age-Related Diseases. Molecules. 2022;27(8):2498. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9032170/
- Sirše M. Effect of Dietary Polyphenols on Osteoarthritis—Molecular Mechanisms. Life. 2022;12(3):436. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8955436/
- Hussain T, Tan B, Yin Y, Blachier F, Tossou MCB, Rahu N. Oxidative Stress and Inflammation: What Polyphenols Can Do for Us? Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2016;2016:1-9. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5055983/