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Overlooked extract in orange peels linked to better heart health

By Vaseline May31,2024

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The key to a healthier heart may lie in your kitchen trash can. Groundbreaking research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that the orange peels you threw away may contain a substance that protects your heart.

Heart disease is no joke. It is the number one killer in the United States and claims lives across all demographics. Here’s where things get interesting: Scientists discovered that some of our gut bacteria, the tiny organisms that live in our digestive systems, are secretly plotting against our heart health.

These sneaky bacteria have a preference for certain nutrients in our food. As they nibble during digestion, they produce a substance called trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO for short. Now TMAO is not just any random chemical. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have found that higher levels of TMAO may predict your risk for future heart problems. It’s like having a crystal ball for your cardiovascular health, but not the kind you want.

Yu Wang and her team at the University of Florida are now literally peeling back the layers of this problem. With a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they turned their attention to orange peels. Not just because they had enough in the kitchen, but because these peels are rich in them phytochemicals. These are natural compounds in plants that can benefit our health.

orange peel
In the US, juice production produces as much as five million tons of orange peels annually. (Photo by congerdesign via Pixabay)

The team suspected that these orange peel extracts could help reduce the production of TMAO and its precursor trimethylamine (TMA). To test this, they extracted two types of compounds from the peels: polar and non-polar fractions. If that sounds like high school chemistry all over again, don’t worry. Wang explains it beautifully with a simple analogy to salad dressing.

“If you imagine your salad dressing, everything in the water or vinegar part is the polar fraction; everything in the oil except water is the non-polar fraction,” Wang said in a press release. “The solvents we used didn’t look exactly like water and oil, but they have a similar polarity.”

So think of polar as water-loving and non-polar as oil-loving. They used special solvents to extract these different fractions from the orange peels. The results? Pretty amazing. The non-polar fraction of the orange peel effectively inhibits harmful chemicals.

That’s not the only thing that happened. In the polar fraction they found a compound called feruloylputrescine. This substance significantly inhibits the enzyme responsible for the production of TMA, which later becomes TMAO.

“This is a novel finding that highlights the previously unrecognized health potential of feruloylputrescine in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” Wang explains.

In simpler terms, they’ve discovered a hidden superhero in orange peels that could be a game-changer for heart health.

Here it gets even better. When you sip your orange juice in the morning, do you ever wonder what happens to the peel? In the US, juice production produces as much as five million tons of orange peels annually. Florida alone, where almost 95% of oranges are processed into juice, produces mountains of peels. Some feed livestock, but much ends up as waste.

The FDA considers natural orange peel extracts safe for human consumption. Wang sees this as a golden opportunity.

“These findings suggest that orange peels, which are often discarded as waste in the citrus industry, can be reused into valuable health-promoting ingredients, such as nutritional supplements or food ingredients,” said the study author. “Our research paves the way for the development of functional foods enriched with these bioactive compounds, opening up new therapeutic strategies for heart health.”

Imagine a future where your breakfast cereal or favorite snack bar is enriched with orange peel extract. Or maybe you drink an orange peel supplement with your morning coffee. Either way, scientists believe they’re one step closer to turning your trash into heart-healthy treasure.

StudyFinds editor Chris Melore contributed to this report.

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