What is Citrus aurantium?
Bitter orange is a plant made from a cross between two different orange species. The fruit is bitter in taste rather than sweet because of its high acidic content.
Bitter orange reached the Americas in the 1500s when it was brought along by the Portuguese and the Spanish. It was previously used for treating gastrointestinal infections in ancient Chinese medicine. In Europe, the flowers and oil of the bitter orange have been used as a prophylactic and a sedative. While in Brazil, it was used for treating insomnia and anxiety in the folk medicine.
The peel of bitter orange is used to make its oil, while the flowers, leaf, fruit juice, peels and fruit are used in making medicine. It is also available as a supplement in the form of capsules for weight loss management.
Benefits of Citrus aurantium for Weight Loss
In 2004, the FDA banned the sale of dietary supplements which contained ephedrine because of safety concerns for the users as it causes a variety of health concerns. Since then, manufacturers have turned to bitter orange as an alternative to ephedrine. When combined with a healthy low-caloric diet and exercise, the effects of bitter orange for weight loss are noticeable.
Extracts from bitter orange are shown to have the following effects which promote healthy weight loss:
- Facilitating the absorption of amino acids for muscle buildup
- Increasing the resting metabolic rate
- Stimulation of the medical processes
- Contributing to satiety (feeling of fullness so you eat less throughout the day)
How Does It Work?
The extract from bitter orange contains powerful alkaloids which include tyramine, octopamine, hordenine, N-methyltyramine and synephrine. These alkaloids target alpha and beta adrenergic receptors in the body which promotes the breakdown of fat. The activation of these receptors also reduces gastric motility which results in reduced intake of food.
Bitter orange peel is very aromatic and its scent is rightfully utilized in the food and beverage industry. Some common benefits of bitter orange include:
- Aromatherapy – bitter orange essential oil is applied to the skin and can also be inhaled to relieve pain
- Bitter orange is used as a flavoring agent in food
- In the manufacturing industry, bitter orange is used in soaps, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals
- Immature and dried bitter orange fruits are used for the treatment of digestive disorders in many folk medicines, especially in Asia
- Dried peel of bitter orange is used for seasoning in food
- The bitter orange flower and its oil is also used for treating anemia, cancer, hair loss, frostbite and skin infections
- The peel of the bitter orange fruit is used for reducing the swelling of the eyelids and retina, headaches, cold, muscular, joint and nerve pain, bed sores and swelling of the blood vessels
- It is also used to make marmalades as well as liqueurs
- The flower of this plant helps in treating many gastrointestinal infections such as ulcers, diarrhea, constipation and gas
- For people with diabetes, it lowers the blood sugar by stimulating blood circulation and also regulates the levels of fat in the blood
Multiple clinical studies have been performed on animals as well as humans to study the effects of bitter orange. They are summarized as under:
- Alkaloids, such as synephrine reduce food intake and increase the expenditure of energy as a result of activation of alpha and beta adrenergic receptors in the body. They have shown to reduce fat cells and food intake in dogs, hamsters and rats (source). By stimulating the beta-adrenergic receptors, lipolysis (breakdown of fat) is also promoted in fat cells.
- In a clinical trial (source) with 12 subjects, one of the two groups was given Citrus aurantium juice while the other a placebo. The pulse and blood pressure was measured at every hour but the Citrus aurantium juice had no effect on the pulse or blood pressure of the subjects.
- The effectiveness of bitter orange in combination with caffeine was investigated in a study in which overweight men and women who followed a weight loss program with a low fat diet and regular exercise were given bitter orange extract and a placebo. It was found that the group with bitter orange extract lost more weight and had increased resting metabolic rate.
Bitter orange is very safe for children as well as adults when it is taken in the ordinary quantities as present in food. It is also safe to utilize for aromatherapy or application to the skin for certain problems. But some side effects of bitter orange include:
- Headaches – cluster headaches and migraines
- Sun sensitivity – wear sunscreen when you go out
- May increase the risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, fainting
A word of caution
Many existing conditions may worsen if you do not take your health condition in consideration before starting with bitter orange:
- It may interfere with surgery so don’t use bitter orange at least two weeks before you go into surgery
- Don’t use bitter orange with caffeine if you have an irregular heartbeat or you are hypertensive
- You run the risk of serious problems if you take bitter orange with an existing heart condition
- Bitter orange may worsen glaucoma
- Monitor your blood sugar closely if you have diabetes and are taking bitter orange
Bitter orange has faced much controversy in being used as a supplement for weight loss since its increased popularity as an alternative to ephedrine. The concerns for this fruit and its effects are not baseless; increased usage, not following the manufacturer’s advice labels or not consulting your doctor before including bitter orange in your diet may lead to serious health consequences and side effects. But if proper care and caution is exercised, you may reap the many benefits of this natural remedy for weight loss as well as other infections and diseases.