Lychee And Its Potential Anti-Inflammatory Properties

  • Raadhika Agrawal Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, Kasturba Medical College, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India

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Introduction

In the pursuit of better health, the world is turning to the secrets nature holds, especially in the form of phytochemicals with polyphenolic structures. Rooted in ancient healing practices like Ayurveda and naturopathy, lies a treasure trove of medicinal plants awaiting modern scientific exploration. Among these, lychee (Litchi chinensis) emerges as a potential powerhouse, not just for its delightful fruits but also for its untapped traditional applications. While lychee's deliciousness is widely known, what often goes unnoticed is its potential as a natural healer.1

As we dive into the realm of lychees, picture lychee not just as a fruit but as a potential ally in our quest for better health. With its roots in Ayurveda and naturopathy, lychee stands as a testament to the age-old wisdom that nature provides remedies for various ailments. 

Nutrient components and their impact

Polysaccharides: Lychee's polysaccharides contribute significantly to its health benefits, influencing various biological activities.2

Polyphenols: The diverse polyphenolic content in lychee plays a crucial role in its nutritional profile, offering various beneficial properties.2

Key Nutrients 

Some of the key nutrients found within 100 grams (g) of raw lychee fruit is shown in the below table.3

NutritionPer 100 g of lychee 
Calories 66
Protein0.83g
Fat0.44g
Carbohydrate16.5g
Fibre1.3g
Vitamin C71.5 mg 

Traditional uses of lychee

Beyond being a culinary delight, lychee has a longstanding history as a traditional Chinese medicine, addressing ailments ranging from stomach ulcers to diabetes.2

Traditional medicinal uses

Stomach Ulcers: Lychee has been employed in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to alleviate stomach ulcers, leveraging its potential gastroprotective properties.2

Diabetes: Traditional uses include the management of diabetes, reflecting the hypoglycemic properties observed in both in vitro and in vivo studies2

Respiratory Ailments: Lychee has historical applications in treating cough and respiratory issues, showcasing its potential as a natural remedy.2

Health benefits supported by studies

Antioxidant Properties: In-depth studies confirm lychee's antioxidant activities, contributing to cellular health and potentially mitigating oxidative stress-related conditions.4

Metabolic Health: Lychee exhibits hypoglycemic, hepatoprotective, and hypolipidemic activities, suggesting benefits for metabolic well-being.4

Neuroprotective and Immunomodulatory Effects: Studies indicate neuroprotective properties, highlighting lychee's role in supporting neurological health. Additionally, immunomodulatory effects showcase its potential impact on the immune system.4

One study found the leaves of Lychee fruit have a secret weapon. This hydroalcohol extract fights inflammation and eases pain. Loaded with natural compounds like terpenoids and flavonoids, this lychee extract showed significant anti-inflammatory effects in rats. It even provided relief from pain in mice.4

Lychee flower extract is packed with powerful compounds, it shields cells from damage caused by heavy metals like cadmium and lead. This lychee extract not only protected cells but also increased their viability.4

Proanthocyanidins

Lychees are a natural haven of proanthocyanidins. These potent compounds, rich in various plant extracts, boast an impressive array of bioactivities such as.5

  • Antioxidant
  • anti-diabetic properties
  • Anti-angiogenic
  • anti-carcinogenic, 
  • anti-inflammatory
  • cardioprotective 

Oligonol

Oligonol, a polyphenol-rich extract from Lychee has garnered considerable attention. Processed to enhance bioavailability, Oligonol has demonstrated a spectrum of positive effects on chronic diseases. Notably, it has shown promise in improving diabetes-induced complications and renal disorders linked to oxidative stress, inflammation, and apoptosis1

Oligonol doesn't stop there; it emerges as a potent ally against inflammation. Studies showcase its ability to attenuate the production of inflammatory mediators, suppressing key signalling pathways. Oligonol demonstrates its versatility in the realm of anti-inflammatory activities1

Lychee, beyond its delightful taste, unfolds as a powerhouse of health benefits. From fighting inflammation to cellular protection and antioxidant defence, lychee's natural compounds offer a holistic approach to well-being. Oligonol, in particular, emerges as a multifaceted ally against chronic diseases, inflammation, and cancer, showcasing the remarkable potential hidden within this tropical gem.

Cautions and considerations when enjoying lychee

Blood sugar levels and hypoglycin A

  • A 2014 study in Muzaffarpur revealed a potential link between lychee consumption and acute encephalopathy6
  • Hypoglycin A and MCPG toxins were found in urine specimens, leading to severe disruption of fatty acid metabolism6

Allergic reactions to lychee

  • Limited case reports on lychee allergies exist, primarily in adults7
  • A 12-year-old girl experienced lip swelling, urticaria, and dyspnea after lychee consumption7
  • Consideration: Lychee can trigger allergic reactions; be cautious if experiencing symptoms

While lychee consumption is generally safe, some individuals may experience adverse reactions such as pruritus, urticaria, or digestive issues. Adverse reactions could be linked to soluble proteins in lychee, potentially causing anaphylactic and inflammatory responses.2

While lychee offers delightful flavours and potential health benefits, it's crucial to be aware of potential cautions. From managing blood sugar levels to recognizing allergic reactions and understanding medication interactions, a mindful approach ensures a safe and enjoyable lychee experience. Always consult with healthcare professionals for personalised advice, especially when incorporating lychee into your diet alongside medications or if allergic reactions are a concern.

Lychee recipe8

Thai prawn & lychee salad 

Ingredients 

  • 500g large cooked prawns
  • small pack mint, leaves picked
  • small pack coriander, leaves picked
  • 20 lychees, peeled, halved and stoned
  • 150g bag beansprouts
  • large handful roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • small handful crispy onions or fried garlic chips 

Method

Step 1: Preparing the Dressing

Start by crushing the chilli (optional) using a pestle and mortar. Incorporate the rest of the ingredients into the mix, ensuring a harmonious blend of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavours. Set the dressing aside for later use.

Step 2: Crafting the Salad 

In a mixing bowl, combine the prawns, mint, coriander, lychees, beansprouts, and half of the peanuts. Drizzle the prepared dressing over the mixture and toss thoroughly. Transfer the vibrant ensemble onto a stylish serving platter, garnishing with the remaining peanuts, garlic chips, and crispy onions.

Summary

In the realm of natural remedies, lychee emerges not just as a tropical delight but as a potential ally in the pursuit of better health.

Rooted in ancient healing practices like Ayurveda and naturopathy, lychee's traditional applications have set the stage for modern scientific exploration, revealing a treasure trove of health benefits.

Lychee's impact extends beyond its delicious taste, with key nutrient components influencing various biological activities. Polysaccharides and polyphenols play pivotal roles, contributing to antioxidant properties and metabolic health.

Beyond its culinary allure, lychee has deep roots in traditional Chinese medicine, addressing ailments from stomach ulcers to diabetes. Scientific studies echo these traditional uses, highlighting lychee's antioxidant prowess, metabolic support, cardiovascular benefits, and neuroprotective qualities.

Lychee's leaves and flowers unveil hidden potentials, offering anti-inflammatory effects, cellular protection against heavy metals, and impressive antioxidant abilities. Proanthocyanidins, abundant in lychee, contribute to a spectrum of bioactivities, including anti-diabetic, anti-carcinogenic, and cardioprotective effects. Oligonol, a polyphenol-rich extract, emerges as a versatile ally, showcasing promising results.

While savouring lychee's benefits, it's crucial to heed caution. Blood sugar management, allergic reactions, and potential interactions with medications should be recognized. The 2014 study in Muzaffarpur underscores the importance of minimising lychee intake, ensuring an evening meal, and promptly addressing glucose levels in suspected illness cases.

As we navigate the wealth of nature's offerings, lychee emerges as a testament to the intricate dance between tradition and science. From the vibrancy of its taste to the richness of its healing properties, lychee invites us to explore its potential as a natural healer. Let lychee be more than a fruit on our plate – let it be a partner in our quest for holistic well-being. Always consult with healthcare professionals for personalised advice, ensuring a harmonious integration of lychee into our journey toward better health.

References

  • Eswar Kumar Kilari and Swathi Putta (2016). Biological and phytopharmacological descriptions of Litchi chinensis. Pharmacognosy Reviews, [online] 10(19), pp.60–60. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-7847.176548.
  • ‌Zhao, L., Wang, K., Wang, K., Zhu, J. and Hu, Z. (2020). Nutrient components, health benefits, and safety of litchi (Litchi chinensis Sonn.): A review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, [online] 19(4), pp.2139–2163. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/1541-4337.12590.
  • ‌Usda.gov. (2023). FoodData Central. [online] Available at: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1102668/nutrients [Accessed 15 Dec. 2023].
  • Emanuele, S., Lauricella, M., Calvaruso, G., Antonella D’Anneo and Giuliano, M. (2017). Litchi chinensis as a Functional Food and a Source of Antitumor Compounds: An Overview and a Description of Biochemical Pathways. Nutrients, [online] 9(9), pp.992–992. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9090992.
  • Qiang Lv, Luo, F., Zhao, X., Liu, Y., Hu, G., Sun, C., Li, X. and Chen, K. (2015). Identification of Proanthocyanidins from Litchi (Litchi chinensis Sonn.) Pulp by LC-ESI-Q-TOF-MS and Their Antioxidant Activity. PLOS ONE, [online] 10(3), pp.e0120480–e0120480. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0120480.
  • Shrivastava, A., Kumar, A., Thomas, J.D., Laserson, K.F., Bhushan, G., Carter, M.D., Chhabra, M., Mittal, V., Khare, S., Sejvar, J.J., Manish Kumar Dwivedi, Isenberg, S.L., Johnson, R.C., Pirkle, J.L., J. Daniel Sharer, Hall, P., Rajesh Singh Yadav, Anoop Velayudhan, Mohan Kumar Papanna and Singh, P. (2017). Association of acute toxic encephalopathy with litchi consumption in an outbreak in Muzaffarpur, India, 2014: a case-control study. The Lancet Global Health, [online] 5(4), pp.e458–e466. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/s2214-109x(17)30035-9.
  • Niggemann, B., Reibel, S., C Hipler and Wahn, U. (2002). Anaphylactic reaction to lychee in a 12-year-old girl: Cross-reactivity to latex? Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, [online] 13(1), pp.64–67. doi:https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1399-3038.2002.00032.x.
  • Desmazery, B. (2016). Thai prawn & lychee salad. [online] Bbcgoodfood.com. Available at: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/thai-prawn-lychee-salad [Accessed 15 Dec. 2023].
  • Lychee image: Grant, A. (2018). What To Do With Lychees: Learn How To Use Lychee Fruits. [online] gardeningknowhow. Available at: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/lychee-tree/how-to-use-lychee-fruits.htm [Accessed 15 Dec. 2023].

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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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Cherise Dixon

MRes, Life Sciences, Birmingham City University

Cherise is a Biomedical Sciences graduate; she is currently pursuing a Master's in Life Sciences with a focus on researching the effects of drugs in endometrial cancer. Experienced in laboratory work, including roles at NHS Trust and the private sector. As a Scientific Writing Intern at Klarity, she contributes weekly articles which align with a passion for preventive health and a commitment to public well-being.

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