The orange is both a literal and symbolic embodiment of the sun, from whose light it is formed and vibrantly emanates. As a whole food it irradiates us with a spectrum of healing properties, the most prominent of which some call “vitamin C activity,” but which is not reducible to the chemical skeleton known as ‘ascorbic acid.’ Science now confirms the orange has a broad range of medicinal properties, which is why the ancients knew it both as a food and a medicine.
As our increasingly overdiagnosed and overmedicated population leaps lemming-like over the cliff of pharmaceutically-driven conventional medicine, with most drugs carrying a dozen or more adverse side effects for every benefit advertised, we can find great wisdom in Meryl Streep’s quote:
“It’s bizarre that the produce manager is more important to my children’s health than the pediatrician.”
~ Meryl Streep
Indeed, many common fruits and vegetables “crouching” at the local produce stand have “hidden healing powers,” and have been used as both medicines and nourishing foods since time immemorial. We’re only just beginning to understand how these foods contain vitally important information-continaing molecules, such as microRNAs, which profoundly impact the expression of our entire genome.
I firmly believe that access to fresh, organic produce is as vital a health necessity as access to water, and clean air. Over the course of hundreds of millions of years, the bodies of our ancestors (whose genes our still within our own) co-evolved with higher, flowering and fruiting plants, and the tens of thousands of phytocompounds (and informational molecules) they contain, many of which now regulate and maintain the expression and health of our genes. Therefore, without the regular consumption of these foods, the developmentn of suboptimal health, and likely many feared acute and chronic diseases, is inevitable.
Orange is one such food-medicine marvel, containing a broad range of compounds increasingly being recognized to be essential for human health. We consider it a sweet treat, its juice a refreshing beverage, but do we ever really reflect on its medicinal properties? GreenMedInfo.com has indexed no less than 37 distinct health benefits its use may confer, all of which can be explored on our Orange Medicinal Properties research page. What follows are some of its most well-established therapeutic applications, divided into three parts: the juice, the peel and the aroma:
The Juice of the Orange
Many of us mistakenly look to orange juice today as a dangerous source of highly concentrated fructose – simple “carbs” – without recognizing its profound medicinal properties. Obviously, it is important to avoid conventionally produced and pasteurized forms, and should make an effort to make our own, fresh-pressed from organic oranges. This will ensure that the bioactivity and informational quality of the orange remains intact, and at its highest potency.
Conventional nutritional science still looks at the vitamin C activity of oranges as equivalent to the molecular weight of the compound known as ascorbic acid, without realizing that an orange embodies (as do all whole foods) a complex orchestra of chemistries, the handiwork of millions of years of evolution, which is to say a process of intelligent biological design. The ‘monochemical nutrient’ – ascorbic acid – is merely a shadow of the vitamin C activity that is carried and expressed through only living foods. The orange, after all, looks like a miniature sun, is formed as a condensation of energy and information from sunlight, and therefore is capable of storing, and after being eaten, irradiating us with life-giving packets of information-dense gene-regulating nutrition, by a mechanism that will never be fully reducible to or intelligible by the chemical skeleton we know of as ascorbic acid.
This is also why its important to avoid the reductionistic mode of thinking that likes to reduce the infinite complexity of food, with all its many healing properties, down to single nutrients and their molecular weights. Oranges are a great example of this, as vitamin C alone can not account for the wide range of health benefits they possess, especially considering that their peel and their aroma also constitute therapeutic elements of this incredible whole food.
Given that thought, here are some of the evidence-based benefits of orange juice:
- Orange Juice Improves “Good” Cholesterol: While it is debatable that lowering so-called “LDL” cholesterol is nearly as good for heart health as statin drug manufacturers would like for us to believe, raising “HDL” cholesterol does seem to have real health benefits. This is, however, quite hard to do with diet and nutrition, and impossible through medication. Other than taking high-dose fish oil, few things have been studied to be effective. Except, that is, orange juice. A 2000 study found that the consumption of 750 mL of orange juice a day, over a 4 weeks, improved blood lipid profiles by decreasing the LDL-HDL cholesterol ratio by 16% in patients with elevated cholesterol.
- Orange Juice Boosts Bone Health: A 2006 animal study in male rats found that orange juice positively influenced antioxidant status and bone strength.
- Orange Juice (mixed with Blackcurrant Juice) Reduces Inflammation: A 2009 study in patients with peripheral artery disease found that orange and blackcurrant juice reduced C-reactive protein (11%) and fibrinogen levels (3%), two concrete measures of systemic inflammation. A 2010 study found that Orange juice neutralizes the proinflammatory effect of a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal and prevents endotoxin induced toxicity.
- Orange Juice Boosts Weight Loss: A 2011 study found that children who regularly drank orange juice consumed an average of 523 calories a day more than children who did not drink orange juice regularly. Yet surprisingly, there was no difference in the weight levels between the orange juice consumers and the non-orange juice consumers.
- Orange Juice May Dissolve Kidney Stones: A 2006 study found that orange juice consumption was associated with lower calculated calcium oxalate supersaturation and lower calculated undissociated uric acid, two indices of lowered urinary calcium stone formation.
- Orange Juice Extract Suppresses Prostate Proliferation: Despite the fructose content, a 2006 study found a standardized extract of red orange juice inhibited the proliferation of human prostate cells in vitro.
The Peel of the Orange
The peel of the orange contains a broad range of potent, potentially therapeutic compounds. These include pectin and flavonoid constituents, such as hersperiden, naringin, polymethoxyflavones, quercetin and rutin, various carotenoids, and a major odor constituent known as d-limonene, which makes up 90% of the citrus peel oil content, and is a compound that gets its name from the rind of the lemon, which contains a significant quantity of it. It is listed in the US Code of Federal Regulations as generally recognized as safe (GRAS), and is commonly used as a flavoring agent. D-limonene has been studied to have potent anti-cancer properties, including against metastatic melanoma.
The whole peel extract has been studied to have a wide range of benefits:
- Orange Peel exhibits Anti-Arthritic Properties: A 2010 study found that orange peel extract significant suppressed vaccine adjuvant-induced arthritis in a preclinical model.
- Orange Peel (Flavonoids) Exhibit Anti-Cancer Properties: A 2007 study found that orange peel extract inhibited tumorigenesis in a preclinical mouse model of adenomatous polyposis and increases programmed cell death.[i] Two additional 2007studies found that orange peel extract has anti-breast cancer properties. The first, by exhibiting chemopreventive properties against mammary tumor lesions in an animal model. The second, by inhibiting breast cancer cell lines in vitro. Additionally, a 2000 study found that flavanone intake is inversely associated with esophageal cancer risk and may account, with vitamin C, for the protective effect of fruit, especially citrus fruit, on esophageal cancer.  Finally, a 2005 study found that carotenoids from orange may help to reverse multidrug resistance.
The Aroma of the Orange
The physiological mechanisms by which aromas may have therapeutic properties (aroma-therapy) are well-established. The small molecules that comprise the aroma of things, are capable of entering directly through the nostrils and into the olfactory lobe, thus enabling them to have profound affects on deep structures within our brain, and as a result our entire bodily and emotional infrastructure.
- Orange Scent Reduces Anxiety, Boosts Mood: A 2000 study found that the aroma of orange essential oil reduces anxiety, generates a more positive mood, and a higher level of calmness in women exposed to it in a dental office waiting room. This finding was confirmed again in a 2005 study, where ambient odors of reduced anxiety and improved mood in patients waiting for dental treatment.
Clearly oranges have a lot to offer as a medicinal food, beyond the obvious aesthetic pleasures they afford. Science may never plumb the depths of their value to our body and mind, but what has been revealed thus far is compelling enough to put it back on the list of ‘super foods’ which we aspire to consume more of in order to nourish ourselves on a deep level.
Sayer Ji is founder of Greenmedinfo.com, a reviewer at the International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, Co-founder and CEO of Systome Biomed, Vice Chairman of the Board of the National Health Federation, Steering Committee Member of the Global Non-GMO Foundation.