Can Oranges “Squeeze The Day“ Against Cancer?

  • Claudia Mohanathas BSc in Biomedical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London
  • Jessica Tang BSc, Cancer Science, Oncology and Cancer Biology, University of Nottingham

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There is no question that oranges are one of the most globally eaten fruits in the entire world, with a unique combination of flavour, scent and potency. Oranges, technically known as Citrus sinensis, are members of the Rutaceae family. They are known for their high concentrations of vitamin C, a strong antioxidant required for immunological function, collagen formation, and general health, thus making them a subject of expansive research in the field of nutrition and cancer.1

The antioxidants in oranges have a critical function in neutralising free radicals, lowering oxidative stress and lowering the risk of cancer. Oranges contain a varied array of bioactive components, including flavonoids, carotenoids, and phytochemicals, in addition to vitamin C, which contribute to their numerous health benefits.2

Let's peel back the layers and dig into the scientific data regarding oranges and their possible involvement in cancer prevention. 

The nutrient and phytochemical powerhouse

Oranges are not only appetising; they contain nutrients that positively impact cancer prevention. It has high concentrations of vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps detoxify the body from free radicals by inhibiting carcinogens), and Folate (which has a role in DNA synthesis and repair, thus preventing the development of cancer cells).

Aside from nutrients, oranges contain phytochemicals that have been proven to be essential in preventing cancer formation. Laboratory and animal studies have shown that flavonoids and terpenes, which are abundant in oranges, influence oncogene expressions (genes that cause increased cell growth that leads to cancer).4 The terpenes, compared to its counterpart, are mostly found in the orange peels. Its mechanism of action is to slow the growth of isolated cancer cells. The unique feature is that flavonoids and terpenes have anti-inflammatory properties that protect the cells from any kind of damage that can eventually lead to cancer. Hesperidin, a flavonoid found mostly in citrus fruits, has been researched as a major agent in causing apoptosis, a process of programmed cell death that aids in the regulation of cell populations.5

Another category of beneficial substances in oranges is carotenoids, including beta-carotene and cryptoxanthin.6 These chemicals are vitamin A precursors that have been linked to a decreased risk of some malignancies.6 In preclinical investigations, beta-cryptoxanthin, in particular, has exhibited anti-cancer activities, indicating the potential to prevent cancer development.6

Latest research development

In recent years, there has been a focus not only on the juice extracts but also on the orange peels, which you would normally throw away. In-vivo cancer studies have shown that peels can also be used to extract essential oils that help induce apoptosis (cell death). 

Some human studies compared high and low consumers of the nutrients found in oranges. Population studies that compared people with varying amounts of daily consumption of vitamin C in oranges were linked to a lower risk of cancer in higher consumers, particularly in the case of lung and colorectal cancers. However, it’s important to note that other risk factors, such as red meat, tobacco usage, and alcohol, could have contributed. 

Other observational population studies concluded that the dietary fibres in oranges reduced excess oestrogen in the body and inadvertently lowered the risk of breast cancer. Furthermore, dietary fibres play a role in weight loss, contributing to a lowered risk of more than ten types of cancers associated with obesity.

Evidence-based research has been significant in these cancer types: lung cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, skin cancer, leukaemia, and prostate cancer.1,5,7 There is no doubt that oranges are blessed with such amazing nutrients. However, there is more research that needs to be done to standardise just how much you need to consume to lower your risk of cancer and also the physiological conditions of the oranges. As they say, too much of anything can certainly cause an imbalance.                                

Practical tips to incorporate oranges into your diet

When choosing oranges, look for ones that are heavy, firm, and have smooth skin. Oranges can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three weeks or at room temperature for five to seven days. Whether the oranges are kept at room temperature or in the refrigerator, their vitamin content will remain the same. Store them freely instead of wrapping them in a plastic bag to avoid mould growth. Use the First In, First Out (FIFO) rule: Use the oldest fruit first and rotate your produce to ensure the freshest. 

Recipes and creative ways to include oranges:

  • Make a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
  • Enjoy eating whole oranges as a snack since oranges have a sweet or citrusy taste.
  • Add orange slices or sprinkle orange juice or orange zest to a spinach/lettuce salad mix, depending on your preference.
  • Make orange popsicles for springtime. Pour orange gelatin, water, and orange juice into popsicle moulds or little plastic cups after the gelatin has dissolved. Freeze for 4 to 8 hours or until solid. If using plastic drinking cups, place popsicle sticks inside after a hard freeze and then finish freezing.

Full recipes are found here.

Bonus tip: You can also try the Orange creamsicle shake recipe, which is my personal favourite! It is a smoothie which consists of five healthy ingredients and can give you a balanced and varied diet.

FAQs

Does drinking orange juice have the same nutrients and phytochemicals as eating an orange, or do they lose some of their beneficial properties during processing?

Eating oranges as a solid fruit compared to its juice form is recommended. Juice lacks the dietary fibre that is included in whole fruit, which is crucial for lowering the risk of cancer. Contrary to popular belief, however, eating solid fruit does not necessarily mean that you will consume more phytochemicals. Orange peels contain a very high concentration of many phytochemicals. These chemicals are present in 100% of the orange juice produced commercially, which includes the peel during the juicing process. Although various processing techniques may reduce the concentration of phytochemicals, there is some evidence to show that juice may improve our ability to absorb these substances from the stomach. Although it is important to interpret these laboratory studies, which simulate human digestion, with care, the current body of research suggests that 100% juice is still a good source of beneficial chemicals.5

Is whole orange fruit better than orange juice in managing a healthy weight?

There is limited evidence on whether whole fruit is preferable to juice for maintaining a healthy weight. A cup of orange juice (8 fluid ounces) has roughly 110 calories. However, you would need to squeeze multiple oranges to acquire that much juice, although food labels list that as one serving of juice. The juice of one medium orange only has 60 calories, which is a much smaller amount than most people would drink. Although the average calorie and sugar content of 100% orange juice (fresh or reconstituted from frozen) is slightly higher, there is likely a greater difference between individual oranges if you compare equivalent amounts of orange slices and juice.

On the other hand, eating an orange can help you feel fuller because it has fibre and takes longer to consume a complete orange. People who eat more slowly frequently take in fewer calories. However, research on humans does not conclusively link fruit juice consumption to weight gain.

In essence, water is preferable to large amounts of 100% fruit juice when you reduce your intake of soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages. However, there is no need for the majority of people to shun juice just because studies show that it frequently assists in meeting fruit intake recommendations for a healthy diet, even for those with tight finances or medical conditions that make consuming solid fruit challenging. If juice is your thing, then go for it, but limit your intake to one moderate-sized serving and make an effort to eat more solid fruit overall.

Summary 

The discovery of oranges in preventing cancer is an exciting field, given the world is shifting towards a holistic approach to diet and lifestyle. Scientific evidence has proven the bioactive compounds in oranges can lower the risk of developing cancer, but it is still widely advised to include a broader range of nutrient-dense diets and make healthy lifestyle choices. 

Oranges stand out because it is an affordable and accessible fruit, highly palatable across all age groups and easy to consume. As further research progresses, incorporating oranges into your diet will go a long way in reducing your risk of certain cancers.

References

  1. Favela-Hernández J, González-Santiago O, Ramírez-Cabrera M, Esquivel-Ferriño P, Camacho-Corona M. Chemistry and Pharmacology of Citrus sinensis. Molecules [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2024 Feb 8]; 21(2):247. Available from: http://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/21/2/247.
  2. Saini RK, Ranjit A, Sharma K, Prasad P, Shang X, Gowda KGM, et al. Bioactive Compounds of Citrus Fruits: A Review of Composition and Health Benefits of Carotenoids, Flavonoids, Limonoids, and Terpenes. Antioxidants [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 Feb 8]; 11(2):239. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/11/2/239.
  3. BDA. Folic Acid [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 9]. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/folic-acid.html.
  4. Phytochemical - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 8]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/phytochemical.
  5. Wang Y, Yu H, Zhang J, Gao J, Ge X, Lou G. Hesperidin inhibits HeLa cell proliferation through apoptosis mediated by endoplasmic reticulum stress pathways and cell cycle arrest. BMC Cancer [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2024 Feb 9]; 15(1):682. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12885-015-1706-y.
  6. Burri BJ, La Frano MR, Zhu C. Absorption, metabolism, and functions of β-cryptoxanthin. Nutr Rev [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2024 Feb 9]; 74(2):69–82. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/nutrit/nuv064.
  7. Kunzmann AT, Coleman HG, Huang W-Y, Kitahara CM, Cantwell MM, Berndt SI. Dietary fiber intake and risk of colorectal cancer and incident and recurrent adenoma in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2024 Feb 8]; 102(4):881–90. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0002916523137130.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Chisom Blessing Onyemelukwe

Master's degree, Pharmacology, Nottingham Trent University

Blessing is an avid researcher with background in life sciences having been exposed to clinical and operational roles within the hospital and pharmaceutical industry. She has over five years experience as a healthcare professional. She is committed to creating awareness on health issues and topics through her writing.

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