Enhancing Cognitive Function With Dragon Fruit

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As modern medicine advances, so does our lifespan. However, in an ageing population, the incidence of cognitive and other brain-related disorders increases concordantly. We therefore wonder, what can we do to maintain a healthy, well-functioning brain - if anything at all?

Well, small changes to our diet and lifestyle are all we need. And it can start with something as seemingly small and insignificant as The Dragon Fruit!

You might ask yourself if we can really supplement our cognitive health, or even enhance our brain power, just by eating a fruit. Like anything else in our diet that gives us an edge, it all comes down to nutrient balance and value. The Dragon Fruit has long been associated with various health benefits and has a uniquely rich vitamin and mineral content. Boasting a high vitamin C content, a complete blend of B vitamins, water-soluble fibre as well as flavonoids and other antioxidants, the holistic contribution that this superfruit could have on your body is extensive.

In this article, we will discuss how Dragon Fruit could boost your cognition and the benefits you can expect by introducing this health hack into your diet.

Introduction

Brain Health is described by the functioning of the brain across several categories, one of which being cognition. Memory, intelligence and learning are all aspects of cognitive health and are predominantly seen to decrease with age. However, while age-related cognitive decline is inevitable (for now…), its severity can be mitigated, and its onset can be delayed. Your diet and lifestyle choices are being seen as more and more important in the way they affect not only your outward health, but even the expression of your genes. Research into the role played by specific bioactive molecules, vitamins and minerals has shed light on how certain fruits and foods can help enrich our body and mind. Here we will give you a little glimpse into how the Dragon Fruit can help boost your cognitive function.

Dragon fruit: an overview

Dragon Fruit, also called ‘Pitaya’ is a fruit cousin of the Cactus. With origins in Central and South America, the fruit was relatively unknown until the 1990s. Now commonly cultivated in various tropical and subtropical regions, the fruit is slowly gaining a reputation for its multitude of health benefits. This unique-looking fruit has a leathery exterior, with red and green peels extending like flames from an oval-shaped main body. These scale-like projections bear a striking resemblance to depictions of dragons - hence the name.

There are several varieties of the fruit, all of which enclose a juicy, sweet or sour pulp or flesh, which is either red or white in colour, depending on the species, turning it into something you can enjoy, guilt-free, as you work to boost your brain!

Nutritional components and cognitive health

Now, to address the most important question: How?? How does Dragon Fruit benefit the brain? Here we will go through the different nutritional components of Dragon Fruit and the way that they work to enhance cognitive functioning. The average dragon fruit weighs around 435g, of which the edible portion weighs around 300g. In this 300g of pulp, a treasure trove of nutritional goodies sits, waiting patiently to help boost your cognitive health!

Vitamin C

Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid is an essential part of our diet. Low Vitamin C is associated with diseases like scurvy due to its role in collagen synthesis and the vitamin is also a powerful antioxidant, working to boost immunity and rid the body of destructive free radicals. When it comes to the brain, Vitamin C plays an important role as it is involved in multiple steps in the chemical synthesis of neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are molecules used for transmitting signals across neurons in the brain. These come in different types, each associated with a different form of neural signal. Vitamin C plays a modulating role in the regulation of both the synthesis and release of multiple different neurotransmitters. As you can probably tell this makes vitamin C incredibly important for the general functioning of the brain. 

The body cannot independently produce vitamin C. It is therefore necessary to include this nutrient in your diet. Just 100g of dragon fruit pulp contains approximately 20 mg of vitamin C. This is around 50% of your Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI), according to the NHS.

Phenolic compounds

The Dragon Fruit is also rich in polyphenolic compounds like flavonoids, phenolic acid, betanin and betacyanin, which have strong antioxidative properties. These compounds act as hunters, scavenging the body for “free radicals''. 100g of dragon fruit contains around 28mg GAE total phenolic content, making it a strong, natural immunity booster and anti-cancer superfruit. Phenolic compounds help prevent cognitive decline. While its antioxidant effects have a neuroprotective ability, the compounds also enhance survival pathways of brain cells, preventing cell death and protein aggregation (seen in Alzheimer’s), while improving the release of neurotrophic factors.

Minerals

Minerals like Iron (Fe), Calcium (Ca), Potassium (K), Phosphorus (P) and Magnesium (Mg), all play important roles in the synthesis of cell components, disease and disorder prevention and metabolic regulation. Iron is necessary for the production of myelin, which is an insulating layer around nerve cells, helping to accelerate signal transmission.

Calcium and potassium ions help in polarisation in the brain cells, basically creating a gradient that determines the direction and speed of transmission of electrical signals in the brain. Their effect on excitability and signal transmission means that deficiencies have severe effects on your cognitive function. Magnesium has been shown to be effective as a treatment against depression and to enhance cognitive function, specifically memory and learning. Dragon Fruit is rich in all these minerals.

Table 1

MineralAmount per 100g (% of RDI)
Iron0.8 mg (10%)
Calcium45 mg (4.5%)
Potassium190 mg (6.5%)
Phosphorus30 mg (4.5%)
Magnesium40 mg (12%)

Other macros

Apart from micronutrients, the macronutrient values of Dragon Fruit are worth boasting. It is low in calories, high in moisture and dietary fibre, with healthy carbohydrates and important essential fatty acids like linoleic and linolenic acid. It is rich in B vitamins including niacin (B3), with a single fruit containing nearly 50% of the RDI. Niacin has neuroprotective abilities and delays cognitive decline, while dietary fibre has gut-protective effects. These components apart from their effect on maintaining cognitive health, also play a role in enhancing cardiovascular health, gut integrity, and metabolic homeostasis.

As you can see, there is a lot of research into Pitaya and its nutritional value on the brain. As we approach a certain age, we begin to see signs of cognitive decline. Modern research has revealed, time and again, that we may change, or delay, this outcome by making alterations to the way we live and the things we eat. 

You do not need to wait to see such signs, instead, you're better off making changes from today! Dragon Fruit comes in different varieties, sweet and sour, both of which have been eaten across South and Central America as well as South and South-ast Asia for centuries. Surely then, it should not be too difficult to include it in your diet?

If you are wondering how you can make these changes to your life, you’re in the right place! Our next topic will bring you some mouth-watering and creative recipe ideas on how to include Dragon Fruit in your next meal, be it breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert!

How to incorporate dragon fruit into the diet

The classic

Dragon Fruit is delicious on its own. With a light, sweet flavour with a tangy tinge, this juicy fruit can be sliced, diced or eaten whole. You can even pair it with other cut fruits to make a nice fruit salad.

Dragon fruit smoothie

While juicing your fruits leads to a loss of the insoluble fibre content, you can retain this important macronutrient by making a simple smoothie. Blending the whole fruit (including the peel which contains important anthocyanins and polyphenols), with your choice of flavour boosters is a good idea for a quick and healthy meal on the go.

Dragon fruit powder

Dragon fruit powder retains the nutrients necessary to boost cognitive health while enhancing your recipe ideas both aesthetically and nutritionally. The powder can be made by grinding the entire fruit, meaning the additional nutrients in the stem and peel can add even more value to your meal. By adding the powder to your flour you can easily make your pasta, pizza, noodles or tacos, a brain-boosting and delicious meal.

Considerations and precautions

It must be noted that some people may have allergic reactions induced by the consumption of dragon fruit, however, these reactions are extremely rare in occurrence. Regardless, necessary precautions must be taken before including the fruit in your diet. You can check with your physician or dietician to find out if you require any precautions before integrating Dragon fruit into your lifestyle.

Consumption of very high quantities of dragon fruit may also lead to pink or red-coloured urine, due to the strong presence of red pigments like betacyanins in the fruit. While this is not in itself a harmful occurrence, (reddish urine is also passed after consumption of high quantities of beetroot), red/pink coloured urine may in rare cases be indicative of other disorders like kidney dysfunction or a UTI, in which case you may need to consult your healthcare provider. 

Anti-diabetic medication may also interact with dragon fruit, as dragon fruit lowers blood sugar naturally. Therefore if you are on diabetic medication it may not be a good idea to include too much in your diet.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Pitaya, or Dragon Fruit, is a versatile superfruit. Research into the pitaya has uncovered numerous medicinal benefits, ranging from boosting energy levels to maintaining a healthy heart to delaying cognitive decline and even enhancing cognitive health and function! With cognitive disorders being the leading cause of DALYs (Disability-Adjusted Life Years) according to the WHO, all of us can expect to at some point become a victim. However, when this cognitive decline hits, and how severely it progresses, can be mitigated by shifting the way you lead your life.

While dragon fruit may not be a single-handed cure to these types of declines, including the fruit in your diet is sure to be a step in the right direction! And to top it all off, it tastes great too!

FAQs

Is dragon fruit good for the brain?

Yes! Dragon Fruit has a number of essential vitamins and minerals necessary for the maintenance of brain cells. It also contains high quantities of antioxidants which help protect the brain cells from damage due to microbes or free radicals.

Can dragon fruit enhance my memory?

Dragon Fruit is rich in B vitamins, associated with cognition and memory. In animal studies, dragon fruit extract has been shown to improve the memory function of tested animals. 

Does dragon Fruit make you poop?

Yellow dragon fruit has a very high fibre content. As a result of this, eating yellow pitaya may have laxative effects. However, this also makes it good for body clearance when necessary and when suffering from constipation.

When should I not eat dragon fruit?

If you suffer allergic reactions to the dragon fruit, you should not include it in your diet. Further, if you suffer from low blood sugar or are diabetic and on medication you should not eat dragon fruit without first consulting a doctor. Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers must consult their physicians regarding dragon fruit and its varieties.

Summary

A major aspect of general brain health is Cognition, which encompasses memory, intelligence, and learning. Age-related cognitive decline is inevitable but manageable through lifestyle choices. Dragon Fruit, a cactus fruit originating from Central and South America, is gaining recognition for its health benefits, including its enhancement of cognitive health. The fruit comes in different varieties with sweet or sour pulp in red or white colours, enclosed by a leathery red or yellow peel.

Dragon Fruit's nutritional components, including Vitamin C, essential minerals (Iron, Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorus, and Magnesium), and phenolic compounds, contribute to cognitive well-being. These elements support neurotransmitter synthesis, act as antioxidants, and play roles in nerve cell function, neuroprotection and cognitive enhancement.

Dragon Fruit is low in calories, and rich in moisture, dietary fibre, essential fatty acids, and B vitamins like Niacin, offering neuroprotective benefits. Incorporating it into the diet can be done by consuming it alone, adding it to fruit salads, or using Dragon Fruit powder in various recipes.

While rare, allergic reactions to dragon fruit should be considered, and excessive consumption may lead to harmless but potentially indicative red or pink-coloured urine. Interaction with anti-diabetic medication requires caution.

Overall this is a tasty and healthy fruit that works wonders on prolonging a functional and healthy brain!

References

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Maitreya Unni

Maitreya Unni - MSc, King's College London

Maitreya Unni is a dedicated researcher specializing in Biomedical and Molecular Science with a focus on stem cell biology. Holding a Master's degree from King's College London, Maitreya has conducted research in gene transfer, human iPSC culture, and advanced molecular techniques. With a passion for translational science, Maitreya is committed to contributing valuable insights to the medical field, particularly dedicated to the dissemination of novel advancements in science research to the general public.

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