The Miracle of Mango

The Miracle of Mango

When considering super-foods, most people think only of blueberries, strawberries, açai, and perhaps pomegranate, but what about the humble mango?

First grown in India more than 5,000 years ago, mangoes and their tree bark, pit seeds, and thick skin have been used in various folk remedies for centuries. In fact, mangoes are related to both pistachios and cashews (so beware of mangoes if you have existing nut allergies) and always wash your hands after handling mango skin or leaves.

In some countries, mangoes are a symbol of love, so giving a basketful of the fruit is often considered a gesture of love or friendship. It’s no wonder, either, since a single mango provides an entire day’s worth of vitamin C, 35 percent of vitamin A, and 12 percent of fiber. Mangoes are also excellent sources of vitamin B6, minerals like copper, and even folate, which is necessary for women in their child-bearing years to ward off birth defects in newborns.

Mango to the Rescue

But we also now know that this sweet fleshy fruit, enjoyed largely in Central and South America as well as South Asia, is not only among the world’s most popular, but eating it may also improve your health in specific ways. Recent studies have shown mango to have positive effects on a number of different chronic diseases, including cancer and ulcerative colitis.

This past April, three new studies about mango’s positive health benefits were presented for consideration at the 2014 Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in San Diego, California. Although the research is still in preliminary stages — with results seen only in animals at this time — scientists at Texas A&M University who led two of the studies are convinced that mangoes may be among tomorrow’s most appreciated super-foods. “These studies provide important insights that will drive further research,” says Megan McKenna of the National Mango Board.

Mango Improves Gut Flora

The first study examined mango polyphenols against those extracted from pomegranates. It found that the mango extracts induced changes in short chain fatty acid production in rats, while pomegranate juice resulted in changes in the composition of microbiota, otherwise known as the universe of tiny bacteria that make up the gut and aid in food digestion. (Recent studies have proved that the health of our gut bacteria does much more than just keep us regular; healthy gut bacteria can affect everything from developing chronic GI disease to determining whether or not you develop a yeast infection following a course of antibiotics. Other studies now indicate that having a healthy gut bacteria from birth — one inherited directly from the birth mother — could influence whether or not a person later becomes obese.)

Lead study author, Susanne Mertens-Talcott, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Director of Research, Institute of Obesity Research and Program Evaluation of Texas A&M University, further explored mango extracts in rats induced with ulcerative colitis and found that the polyphenols in mango were able to reduce the rats’ inflammation while reducing the negative affects of colitis.

In 2010, when Talcott and her husband, Dr. Steve Talcott, had first done research on mango polyphenols at Texas A&M, they found that the extracts were effective at stopping the growth of some common breast and colon cancer cells as well. Mango extracts were somewhat effective at slowing the growth of other cancer cells, too, such as those that infect the lungs and prostate.

“[Mango] has about four to five times less antioxidant capacity than an average wine grape, and it still holds up fairly well in anticancer activity. If you look at it from the physiological and nutritional standpoint, taking everything together, it would be a high-ranking super food,” Susanne Talcott said. “It would be good to include mangoes as a part of the regular diet.”

Unlike traditional cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation, eating mango has no negative affects on healthy cells. “What we found is that not all cell lines are sensitive to the same extent to an anticancer agent,” Talcott continued. “But the breast and colon cancer lines underwent apotosis, or programmed cell death. Additionally, we found that when we tested normal colon cells side by side with the colon cancer cells, that the mango polyphenolics did not harm the normal cells.”

Another 2014 study, this one conducted at Oklahoma State University by Edralin Lucas, Ph.D., suggested that mango polyphenol extracts may also be useful for counteracting the negative affects of bone loss in people with postmenopausal osteoporosis.