J. F. Templeman, MD
Until recently, mangosteen has been one of natures best-kept medical secrets. Despite its history and popularity as a folk remedy in Asia, Africa, and South America, mangosteen has yet to be appreciated for its multiple health benefits in North America or Europe.
Until recently, mangosteen has been one of nature’s best-kept medical secrets. Despite its history and popularity as a folk remedy in Asia, Africa, and South America, mangosteen has yet to be appreciated for its multiple health benefits in North America or Europe.
Mangosteen–no connection to the mango–goes by the scientific name Garcinia mangostana L. and belongs to the Guttiferae family, which includes more than 800 species of plants. Garcinia mangostana L. is said to be named for the French priest and explorer Laurentiers Garcin (1673 to 1751), who may have discovered it in the Sunda Islands and the Mollucas, islands of the western Malay Archipelago.
Today the fruit is cultivated in the tropical regions of both eastern and western hemispheres, with commercial plantations in Thailand, India, Malaysia, Hawaii, and the Philippines. A number of other countries in both Asia and South and Central America are smaller producers of the fruit.
Prized for its excellent flavour, mangosteen is called the “queen of fruits” in Asia, and in the French Caribbean it is called the “food of the gods.” Some say mangosteen tastes like a combination of orange and unripe strawberry.
For centuries the traditional medical healers of India and Southeast Asia have employed mangosteen for its health benefits. Preparations of the rind have been used as antimicrobial and antiparasitic treatments for dysentery and other forms of infectious diarrhea.
It has long been recognized in Asia that mangosteen has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is effective in treating eczema and other skin conditions such as psoriasis.
In the Caribbean, mangosteen tea is used as a tonic for fatigue and low energy. Brazilians use a similar tea as a deworming agent and digestive aid. In Venezuela, parasitic skin infections are treated with poultices of the fruit rind, while Filipinos employ a fruit extract to control fever.
The active ingredients in mangosteen include vitamins A and C, catechins (potent antioxidants), polysaccharides, and stibenes (inorganic gas).
However, it is the xanthones in mangosteen that have generated excitement in the scientific community about this fruit’s medicinal potential. Xanthones are a new class of chemical compounds found only in mangosteen.
Xanthones the Key
To date approximately 40 xanthones have been identified and several have been studied intensely. A Brazilian study published in 2000 provided extensive information that as many as 234 xanthones may naturally occur in mangosteen. Researchers described them as fungal and lichen metabolites in the flesh and rind of this fruit.
Mangosteen’s xanthones have multiple beneficial effects for every body system. The fruit’s ability to combat fatigue and generate energy is but one benefit. See the sidebar for more about the medicinal benefits of mangosteen.
In my opinion, a small glass of mangosteen juice each day, along with a good multivitamin and mineral supplement, is the optimal choice for those who recognize the value of supplementation.
Studies Supporting Mangosteen
Numerous scientific studies indicate that the xanthones in mangosteen have a range of medicinal benefits:
Antibacterial: A 2005 Japanese study found that a xanthone isolated from mangosteen stem bark to be active against resistant strains of Staphylococcus and Enterococci bacteria.
Antiviral: A 1996 study published in Planta Medica found that xanthones in an ethanol extract of Garcinia mangostana L. inhibited HIV-1 protease (enzymes).
Antileukemic: In 2003 Japanese researchers found xanthones from mangosteen seed cases inhibited growth of human leukemia cells.
Antitumour: In 2002, researchers at the Veterans General Hospital in Taipei concluded that xanthones extracted from mangosteen rinds may be potentially useful for the treatment of lung, liver, and stomach cancers.
Antihistamine: Again in 2002, Japanese researchers found a xanthone-rich ethanol extract of mangosteen fruit hulls had more potent antihistamine effects than a water extract of blackberry, popularly used as an anti-allergy drug in Japan.
Anti-inflammatory: A 2004 study in Molecular Pharmacology investigated the effect of a xanthone purified from the mangosteen fruit hull and concluded it to be a new, useful lead compound for anti-inflammatory drug development.
The many observed medical benefits of mangosteen can be attributed to the interaction of the hundreds of xanthones in the flesh, rind, and bark of this wonderful Asian fruit, newly discovered in North America and Europe.