Detoxification Benefits Of Dragon Fruit

  • Eleanor Lomax Biological sciences student – MBiol, Durham University

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Introduction 

Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya or pitahaya, is a tropical fruit that belongs to the cactus family (Cactaceae). The fruit is native to Central America but is now cultivated in many regions around the world, including Southeast Asia, the United States, and Australia. 

There are several varieties of dragon fruit, with the most common being the red-skinned variety with white or red flesh and the yellow-skinned variety with white flesh. The colour of the flesh can vary greatly, and it may contain small, edible black seeds. Dragon fruit plants thrive in warm and tropical climates. They prefer well-draining soil and can be grown in both humid and arid conditions. The plants are often grown on trellises or other support structures. Dragon fruit is typically harvested when the fruit is fully mature and its skin colour has developed, with the fruit usually being picked by hand to avoid damage. 

Dragon fruit has gained widespread popularity in recent years due to its vibrant appearance and unique taste. Beyond its visual appeal and delicious flavour, dragon fruit has a range of potential detoxification benefits.1

Nutritional composition of dragon fruit

To understand the detoxification benefits of dragon fruit, it is important to understand its nutritional composition. Dragon fruit is rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre. One crucial feature of dragon fruit is its low-calorie and low-fat content, making it a healthy addition to your diet. The fruit is a good source of vitamin C, which contributes to its antioxidant properties, vitamin B, which aids enzymatic processes within the body, iron, which is required for growth and development, and phosphorus, which is involved in the repair of cells and tissues, contributing to overall health and well-being. Antioxidants are critical components in the detoxification process, as they help to counteract the damaging effects of oxidative stress on cells and tissues. 

Dragon fruit is a rich source of antioxidants, including polyphenols, flavonoids, and betalains. Polyphenols are plant compounds known for their antioxidant properties. Dragon fruit contains polyphenols such as catechins and epicatechins, which contribute to its detoxification benefits. These polyphenols can also help to manage blood pressure levels and keep your blood vessels healthy. 

Additionally, flavonoids present in dragon fruit, such as quercetin and kaempferol, have been associated with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, supporting the body's ability to eliminate toxins. These anti-inflammatory properties reduce cell damage by free radicals and can therefore help to control and prevent chronic diseases.

Dragon fruit's vibrant colours are attributed to betalains, pigments with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds have been studied for their potential detoxification impact by promoting liver function. 

The liver is a central organ in the body's detoxification process, and the presence of betalains in dragon fruit suggests a role in supporting liver health and function. Inflammation is closely linked to the body's response to toxins and stressors. Chronic inflammation can impede the detoxification process and contribute to the development of various diseases. Dragon fruit's flavonoids and betalains exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, potentially mitigating inflammation and supporting the body's ability to detoxify.2

Antioxidant properties of dragon fruit

The vitamin C within dragon fruit is a powerful antioxidant known for its detoxifying properties. Antioxidants play a crucial role in neutralising free radicals in the body, which are harmful molecules produced during various metabolic processes and in response to environmental stressors. By scavenging these free radicals, vitamin C can donate an electron, neutralising the free radicals and helping to protect cells from oxidative stress, which occurs when there is an imbalance between reactive oxygen species and antioxidants, supporting the body's natural detoxification mechanisms. Detoxification is not only about eliminating external toxins but also about supporting cellular health. Dragon fruit's antioxidant compounds, particularly vitamin C and polyphenols, may exert positive effects on cellular function and integrity. Oxidative stress can damage cells and contribute to various health issues. Dragon fruit's antioxidants, including vitamin C and polyphenols, help to neutralise these free radicals, reducing oxidative stress and supporting cellular health. This cellular protection may contribute to the overall detoxification process by preventing cellular damage and promoting optimal functioning.3

Liver detoxification

Detoxification is a complex process involving various organs and systems in the body. Dragon fruit's nutritional content and antioxidant profile may have a positive impact on specific bodily functions associated with detoxification. The liver plays a central role in detoxifying the body by metabolising and eliminating toxins. The liver contains phagocytes which reside in the lobules, known as Kupffer cells. These cells can destroy and digest any invading bacteria and cellular debris.4 Dragon fruit's antioxidant compounds, particularly betalains, may support the liver's detoxification function. Studies suggest that betalains may enhance the activity of enzymes involved in detoxification processes, potentially aiding the liver in efficiently processing and eliminating toxins from the body. Betalains also protect the liver from inflammation and oxidative stress, which occurs when the levels of free radicals become greater than the levels of antioxidants.5

Kidney detoxification

The kidneys are crucial in filtering and excreting waste products and toxins from the blood. The kidneys each have about one million nephrons, which contain a small filter called a glomerulus.  Here, blood passes through and waste products are filtered.6 Adequate hydration, supported by the water content within dragon fruit, is essential for optimal kidney function. Furthermore, the fruit's low sodium content contributes to kidney health by helping maintain a balanced electrolyte level. 

While dragon fruit alone cannot replace the need for sufficient water intake, its nutritional profile can complement overall kidney function and, consequently, the detoxification process. This aids in kidney health and function and can help to remove heavy metals from the bloodstream, as well as aid in the prevention of diabetes.7

Other contributing factors to detoxification

Proper hydration is fundamental for effective detoxification. While dragon fruit contributes to overall water intake, it is essential to consume an adequate amount of water throughout the day. Staying hydrated supports kidney function aids in the elimination of waste, and ensures optimal cellular processes, enhancing the overall detoxification process. Regular physical activity is associated with numerous health benefits, including improved circulation, enhanced metabolism, and increased sweating, all of which contribute to the detoxification process. Combining dragon fruit consumption with a consistent exercise routine promotes overall well-being and supports the body's natural detoxification mechanisms. Quality sleep is vital for the body's cells to repair and regenerate. During sleep, the body undergoes various detoxification and repair activities, including the elimination of waste products from the brain. Incorporating dragon fruit into a well-balanced diet, combined with sufficient sleep, ensures a comprehensive approach to supporting the body's detoxification efforts.8

Fibre and the digestive system 

The high dietary fibre content within dragon fruit is another aspect contributing to its detoxification benefits. Fibre plays a key role in promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. A healthy digestive system is essential for effective detoxification, as it aids in the elimination of waste and toxins from the body. 

Therefore, dragon fruit's fibre content supports digestive health, contributing to a more efficient detoxification process.9 Dragon fruit also contains a high level of oligosaccharides, a form of carbohydrate that aids in the growth of good bacteria and helps with smooth digestion, further preventing constipation and promoting healthy and painless bowel movements.10

Incorporating dragon fruit into your diet

While dragon fruit offers a range of detoxification benefits, it is essential to incorporate it as part of a balanced and varied diet. Additionally, a holistic approach to detoxification involves other lifestyle factors, such as hydration, exercise, and adequate sleep. Dragon fruit can be a valuable addition to a balanced and nutrient-rich diet. Combining it with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins ensures a diverse intake of essential nutrients, supporting overall health and the body's natural detoxification processes. Dragon fruit can be eaten in many different ways. Here are some common ways that others like to eat dragon fruit:

  1. Fresh and Raw: Cut the dragon fruit in half, scoop out the flesh with a spoon, and eat it fresh. You can also cut the fruit into bite-sized pieces or cubes.
  2. Smoothies: Dragon fruit adds a refreshing and slightly sweet flavour to smoothies. Blend dragon fruit chunks with other fruits, yoghurt, and a liquid of your choice (such as coconut water or juice) to create a nutritious smoothie.
  3. Fruit Salad: Including dragon fruit in a fruit salad adds colour, texture, and a mildly sweet taste. Combine it with other tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, and kiwi for a vibrant fruit salad.
  4. Sorbet: Freeze dragon fruit chunks and blend them to create a homemade sorbet. You can add a touch of sweetener or mix it with other frozen fruits to add variety.
  5. Jellies and Jams: Dragon fruit can be used to make jellies or jams, which can be spread on toast or used as a topping for desserts. Combine dragon fruit with sugar and pectin to create a delicious spread.
  6. Dried Dragon Fruit: Dehydrate dragon fruit slices to create a dried fruit snack. Dried dragon fruit can be enjoyed on its own or added to trail mixes and granola.11

Summary

Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya or pitahaya, is a tropical fruit that has gained popularity due to its vibrant appearance and potential detoxification benefits. Dragon fruit is rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre that all contribute to the health of your body. Dragon fruit contains high levels of vitamin C, vitamin B, iron, and phosphorus which are responsible for the fruit’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying properties. Dragon fruit also contains polyphenols, flavonoids, and betalains which all aid in the neutralisation of cell-damaging free radicals within the body. The most common ways that individuals incorporate dragon fruit into their diets is raw, in smoothies, or jellies and jams. 

References 

  1. [Internet]. [cited 2023 Dec 13]. Available from: https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/school-nutrition/pdf/fact-sheet-dragon-fruit.pdf 
  2. Meixner M. 7 health benefits of dragon fruit (plus how to eat it) [Internet]. Healthline Media; 2018 [cited 2023 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/dragon-fruit-benefits 
  3. Nishikito DF, Borges AC, Laurindo LF, Otoboni AM, Direito R, Goulart R de, 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. doi:10.3390/pharmaceutics15010159 
  4. Detoxification [Internet]. [cited 2023 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/nmp/sonet/rlos/bioproc/liverphysiology/page_six.html#:~:text=The%20liver’s%20own%20phagocytes%20which,dealt%20with%20by%20the%20liver. 
  5. Madadi E, Mazloum-Ravasan S, Yu JS, Ha JW, Hamishehkar H, Kim KH. Therapeutic application of Betalains: A Review. Plants. 2020;9(9):1219. doi:10.3390/plants9091219 
  6. Department of Health & Human Services. Kidneys [Internet]. Department of Health & Human Services; 1999 [cited 2023 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/kidneys 
  7. Pratibha. 14 surprising health benefits of Dragon Fruit [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.livofy.com/health/dragon-fruit-benefits/#:~:text=Dragon%20fruit%20health%20benefits%20individuals,including%20the%20liver%20and%20kidneys. 
  8. Van De Walle G. Full body detox: 9 Ways to Rejuvenate Your Body [Internet]. Healthline Media; 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-detox-your-body#2.-Focus-on-sleep 
  9. Cleveland Clinic. Why dragon fruit is healthy [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic; 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 13]. Available from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/get-to-know-the-incredible-edible-dragon-fruit 
  10. Bodhare A. 10 health benefits and recipes of dragon fruit (pitaya) [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 13]. Available from: https://pharmeasy.in/blog/10-health-benefits-and-recipes-of-dragon-fruit-pitaya/#:~:text=Good%20for%20Digestion,of%20cancer%20and%20cardiovascular%20diseases. 
  11. How to eat dragon fruit: 7 ways [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.mccormick.com/articles/mccormick/how-to-eat-dragon-fruit-7-ways

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Eleanor Lomax

Biological sciences student – MBiol, Durham University

Eleanor is a student of biological sciences who has several years of involvement in working with knowledgeable researchers to write and publish medical articles. She has a range of experience educating others about biology and medicine through her role as a STEM ambassador and through internships with the Durham university bioscience department.

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