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Health Hazards of Citrus Fruits

By Jeffrey Traister

Citrus describes acid fruits, high in ascorbic acid, the chemical name for vitamin C. Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, tangerines, tangelos, mandarins, pomelos, clementines and kumquats are examples of citrus fruits. These fruits may provide health benefits, such as help in reducing the risk of cancers of the digestive and respiratory tracts, according to research by Roberto Foschi published in the February 2010 issue of Cancer Causes and Control in 2010. Yet citrus fruits may also present health hazards.

Fungi Growth

Citrus fruits are prone to contamination by fungi on the farm, during harvest and transport and once the foods have been purchased by the consumer. Research by Valerie Tournas, Ph.D., published in the November 2005 issue of the International Journal of Food Microbiology, indicates that 83 percent of citrus fruit samples have fungal growth from the Alternaria, Cladosporium, Penicillium, Fusarium families, along with yeasts and other fungi at levels ranging from 25 percent to 100 percent of tested fruits. Some molds may grow and produce mycotoxons, while some yeasts and molds may cause allergies or infections.

Biphenyl Toxicity

Biphenyl is a chemical used in the packaging of citrus fruits to prevent fungi growth. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that acute exposure to high levels of biphenyl may cause eye and skin irritation and toxic effects on the liver, kidneys and central and peripheral nervous systems. Symptoms of acute exposure to biphenyl include headache, indigestion, nausea, gastrointestinal pain, aching and numbness of the limbs, and general fatigue. Chronic exposure to biphenyl is characterized by symptoms affecting your central nervous system including headache, tremor, insomnia, fatigue, sensory impairment and mood changes.

Drug Interactions

Grapefruit juice, grapefruits and other citrus fruits, such as pomelos and Seville oranges, may interfere with various kinds of prescription drugs. Certain chemicals in grapefruits and other citrus fruits may inhibit enzymes that break down medications during digestion. When this occurs, higher and sometimes dangerous levels of medication stay in your body, increasing the potency and potentially increasing risk for serious side effects. Either eliminate grapefruit products from your diet or take your medication and grapefruit product at different times, at least two hours before or after your medication. Examples of drugs that may interact with citrus fruits include simvastatin for high cholesterol, buspirone for anxiety, sertraline for depression and saquinavir for viral infections. Research by Jari Lilja, M.D., published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2004, concluded that even one glass of grapefruit juice, taken daily, increases plasma concentrations of simvastatin 360 percent. Moreover, the research reported that grapefruit juice may increase the risk of adverse effects of simvastatin.

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