Dragon fruit is produced by the Selenicereus undatus species of cactus, which exclusively blooms at night. This plant originates from the southern regions of Central America and Mexico. Nowadays, it is grown all over the world, and it is known by many names, such as pitaya, pitahaya, and strawberry pear. Dragon fruit is often promoted as a superfood due to its high levels of antioxidants, vitamins (particularly vitamin C), and minerals. It is also considered a good source of fibre. These nutritional qualities have made its consumption appealing to health-conscious consumers. Furthermore, the vibrant pink or yellow skin and white or red flesh speckled with tiny black seeds make dragon fruit visually appealing. Its exotic appearance has piqued the curiosity of many, growing its popularity.
Dragon fruit's appearance and types
There are two prevalent varieties of dragon fruit, characterised by their vibrant red skin that is adorned with green scales, giving them a dragon-like appearance. The most readily found type features a white, sweet pulp filled with small black seeds. However, a less common variant boasts red pulp with black seeds. Another dragon fruit variety, known as the yellow dragon fruit, has a yellow outer skin and white flesh with black seeds. Despite its exotic appearance, the flavour profile of dragon fruit is rather familiar to consumers, often likened to a mildly sweet blend of kiwi and pear.
Dragon fruit's impact on mood and stress
Dragon fruit can potentially have a positive impact on mood and stress, primarily due to its nutritional content and hydration benefits. Incorporating it into a balanced diet may contribute to overall well-being, which can be reflected in a more positive mood and improved stress management.
What are the key nutrients of dragon fruit?
Dragon fruit is a good source of antioxidants like betalains and vitamin C. These are compounds found in foods that can help protect cells from oxidative stress and potential damage that could lead to cellular death. Therefore, reducing oxidative stress may positively impact mood and overall mental well-being.1
Dragon fruit contains dietary fibre, which can help prevent constipation and aid digestion. Dragon fruit provides fibre in both its soluble and insoluble form.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in various physiological processes in the human body, including those related to stress and mental well-being.2
Dragon fruit contains iron, which is important for oxygen transport in the body. Abnormal levels of oxygen in the body, and especially within the brain, may influence and potentially worsen a person’s mood.
Dragon fruit contains carbohydrates such as natural sugars and is relatively low in calories.
Dragon fruit has a high water content, which can help with regulating hydration within the body. Adequate hydration is vital in maintaining overall health and a sense of well-being.
What is dragon fruit’s impact on mood?
While there is not yet any scientific evidence suggesting that dragon fruit has a direct, significant impact on mood, it can nevertheless contribute to your overall well-being in several indirect ways, which can influence your mood.
Impact of antioxidants
As mentioned above, dragon fruit is rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin C and betalains, which help protect cells from damage and oxidative stress. Research evidence suggests that oxidative stress may contribute to the development of mood disorders such as depression by causing brain inflammation, damaging brain cells, disrupting hormones, and reducing antioxidant defences.3 Antioxidants neutralise harmful free radicals in the body, preventing cell damage and maintaining health. Free radicals are unstable molecules that exist within your body and can react with proteins and even with your DNA. They should be maintained at appropriate levels; however, if their levels are abnormally high, they cause oxidative stress, leading to cellular damage.4 Therefore, reducing oxidative stress may have a positive impact on mood.
Role of vitamins B and C
Dragon fruit is rich in essential vitamins, such as vitamin C and vitamin B. These nutrients play a role in various bodily functions, including the production of neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that influence mood). For example, vitamin B6 is involved in the synthesis of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being and happiness.5 Additionally, B vitamins are essential for maintaining proper brain function. In particular, vitamins B1, B6, and B12 are neurotropic, meaning they support the brain by supporting the development of neurons and facilitating their repair mechanisms. Therefore, they play a role in regulating mood and cognitive processes.6
Stress reduction and dragon fruit
What is stress?
Although there is no generally accepted definition, stress can be described as a complex reaction that occurs in an organism when it encounters something it perceives as a threat.9 This reaction involves changes in the body's chemistry, physical responses, mental state, and even how the expression of certain genes is activated or deactivated. Stress can be triggered by various situations, and its onset is not just based on the actual danger. It also depends on how the brain perceives the stressful stimulus and how it reacts to it.
Stress can worsen mental health by causing or exacerbating conditions like anxiety and depression. It can also lead to physical health problems, substance abuse, and impaired cognitive function. Social isolation, sleep disturbances, and behavioural changes are common side effects.
Magnesium's role in stress management
Dragon fruit is a great source of magnesium, which is needed for many bodily functions. Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in various physiological processes in the human body, including those related to stress. Research has suggested that there is a relationship between magnesium deficiency and the development of anxiety and stress-related disorders.7
How can magnesium help with stress management?
Research suggests that magnesium may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and promote a sense of calmness.8 These studies investigated the effect of magnesium on mild anxiety, generalised anxiety, postpartum anxiety, and anxiety during premenstrual syndrome, concluding that magnesium intake alleviated the symptoms in all participants, apart from those with postpartum anxiety.
Magnesium is known for its ability to relax muscles and reduce muscle tension. When you are stressed, your muscles can become tense, leading to physical discomfort. Magnesium supplementation may help alleviate muscle tension and promote relaxation, which can indirectly reduce stress levels, along with the direct effects it exhibits on stress.8
Nervous system regulation
Magnesium is involved in the regulation of the nervous system, and it does so by regulating the function of certain neurotransmitters and the release of stress hormones like cortisol.8 Adequate magnesium levels help to maintain a balanced nervous system response to stress.
Magnesium is involved in brain function and may support cognitive health. Adequate magnesium levels may help improve focus and concentration, making it easier to manage stress.8
Adding dragon fruit to your diet
There are several ways of including dragon fruit in your diet; below are a few ways to try.
Dragon fruit smoothie
Blend dragon fruit chunks with your choice of yoghurt, milk (dairy or plant-based), and a sweetener like honey or agave nectar. Elevate your drink with some ice cubes to make it cooler.
Dragon fruit parfait
Layer diced dragon fruit with Greek yoghurt and granola to create a colourful and satisfying parfait.
Dragon fruit topping
Dice dragon fruit and use it as a topping for pancakes, waffles, or French toast. Drizzle with maple syrup for an extra treat.
Dragon fruit wraps
Fill rice paper wraps with sliced dragon fruit, mint leaves, shrimp or tofu, and vermicelli noodles. Serve with a dipping sauce for a light and healthy meal.
Allergies and side effects
While dragon fruit is considered generally safe to eat, there have been cases of allergic reactions. It's important to remember that allergies can develop suddenly and unpredictably, even to foods that a person has consumed without issue in the past. Allergic reactions to foods typically involve symptoms such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
Therefore, if you have a history of food allergies, it is best to consult with your healthcare provider for personalised advice before including dragon fruit in your diet.
Dragon fruit's potential impact on mood and stress should not be underestimated. While there is no direct scientific evidence to suggest that dragon fruit has a significant impact on mood, its rich nutritional profile and hydrating properties can contribute to overall well-being, indirectly influencing mood and stress. Dragon fruit contains antioxidants such as vitamin C and betalains, which can help protect cells from oxidative stress and consequently potential mood-related issues. It is also packed with other essential vitamins, such as vitamin B as well as magnesium, which play key roles in maintaining brain function and neurotransmitter production, potentially supporting feelings of well-being. Finally, the magnesium content in dragon fruit may support stress management by helping reduce anxiety symptoms, promoting muscle relaxation, regulating the nervous system, and enhancing cognitive function. Adding dragon fruit into your diet can be easy, with options like smoothies, parfaits, toppings, and wraps. However, individuals who have a history of food allergies should be cautious and consult with a healthcare professional before adding dragon fruit to their diet due to rare cases of allergic reactions.
- Salim S. Oxidative stress and psychological disorders. Curr Neuropharmacol [Internet]. 2014 Mar [cited 2023 Sep 20];12(2):140–7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3964745/
- Pickering G, Mazur A, Trousselard M, Bienkowski P, Yaltsewa N, Amessou M, et al. Magnesium Status and Stress: The Vicious Circle Concept Revisited. Nutrients [Internet]. 2020 Nov 28 [cited 2023 Nov 29];12(12):3672. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7761127/
- Correia AS, Cardoso A, Vale N. Oxidative stress in depression: the link with the stress response, neuroinflammation, serotonin, neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity. Antioxidants (Basel) [Internet]. 2023 Feb 13 [cited 2023 Sep 21];12(2):470. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9951986/
- Pham-Huy LA, He H, Pham-Huy C. Free radicals, antioxidants in disease and health. Int J Biomed Sci [Internet]. 2008 Jun [cited 2023 Dec 1];4(2):89–96. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614697/
- Field DT, Cracknell RO, Eastwood JR, Scarfe P, Williams CM, Zheng Y, et al. High‐dose Vitamin B6 supplementation reduces anxiety and strengthens visual surround suppression. Hum Psychopharmacol [Internet]. 2022 Nov [cited 2023 Sep 21];37(6):e2852. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9787829/
- 6. Baltrusch S. The role of neurotropic b vitamins in nerve regeneration. Biomed Res Int [Internet]. 2021 Jul 13 [cited 2023 Dec 1];2021:9968228. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8294980/
- Cuciureanu MD, Vink R. Magnesium and stress. In: Vink R, Nechifor M, editors. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System [Internet]. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press; 2011 [cited 2023 Sep 20]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507250/
- Boyle N, Lawton C, Dye L. The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety and stress—a systematic review. Nutrients [Internet]. 2017 Apr 26 [cited 2023 Sep 20];9(5):429. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/5/429
- Schneiderman N, Ironson G, Siegel SD. Stress and health: Psychological, behavioural, and biological determinants. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology [Internet]. 2005;1(1):607–28. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/