Citrusy Orbs

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In Tuesday’s post, I discussed one of the most popular quotes about lemons. Today, I would like to focus on the lemon itself. Lemon (citrus limon) is a delightfully sour and acidic citrus fruit that grows on trees.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica (2015), the lemon appeared in Spain and North Africa in the earliest part of the 2nd century, and then appeared throughout Europe during the Crusades (1095-1192).  The interesting thing about the dispersion of lemon during the Crusades is that it coincides with some of the first written accounts of scurvy a condition caused by Vitamin C deficiency. In the 13th century, Jacques de Vitry’s historical account of the Crusades noted the symptoms of the disease (Prinzo, 1999, p. 9)


A large number of men in our army were attacked also by a certain pestilence, against which the doctors could not find any remedy in their art. A sudden pain seized the feet and legs; immediately afterwards the gums and teeth were attacked by a sort of gangrene, and the patients could not eat any more. Then the bones of the legs became horribly black, and so, after the greatest patience, a large number of Christians went to rest on the bosom of the Lord.
Jacques de Vitry


Despite a somewhat increased ability to access the lemon, which offered the potential for cure, scurvy remained widespread in the general population as the treatments of the day proved largely ineffective.  Scurvy was particularly prevalent in northern climates and during the dark winter months and among sailors. It was not until the mid-18th century when “James Lind carried out his famous controlled clinical trial on board a British naval vessel. To prove conclusively the power of lemons and oranges over popular remedies” (Prinzo, 1999, p. 11).

Besides preventing scurvy, which still exists, you might be wondering if there are any additional health benefits to a lemony snack. Pop quiz: What is the most prevalent vitamin or mineral in a lemon? Did you guess Vitamin C? Do not be afraid if you did, as it is a common misconception. The correct answer is potassium. Lemons contain potassium at a rate more than double that of Vitamin C. (For 1 cup: 293 mg and 112.4 mg respectively)!

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, 1 cup of lemon also contains 55 mg of calcium and 59.1 mg of hesperetin, a flavanone . Hesperetin? Now that is something worth discussing. Hesperetin occurs naturally in the flesh of citrus fruits. According to the PubChem Substance and Compound database, it “may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, hypolipidemic, vasoprotective and anticarcinogenic actions”. In non-technical language, it has the potential to reduce the risk of cancer, can protect the heart through a reduction in systemic inflammation (also strongly associated with many chronic diseases) and cholesterol, and reduces allergic responses. That is cool stuff!

Given all of the potential benefits of consuming lemons, I am sure that you are ready to head to your nearest source of lemons and start eating. Not so fast! There are a couple of problems. The first is that dietary studies are rarely able to isolate a specific component of a food, so it is difficult to tell if the benefit is conferred by the hesperetin alone or if requires interaction with other elements of the lemon. Further, there is no current RDI (recommended daily intake) for hesperetin, and at this point, it is not worth trying to guess what might work for your individual needs. However, it is safe to say that a lemon is a very tasty addition to your well-balanced diet.

References and Additional Reading:
If you want a more thorough scientific overview of hesperetin, it is available in the PubChem Substance and Compound database under the PubChem CID: 72281.

lemon. (2015). Retrieved from Encyclopaedia Britannica: http://www.britannica.com/plant/lemon

Prinzo, Z. (1999). Scurvy and its prevention and control in major emergencies. Geneva: WHO. http://www.unhcr.org/4cbef0599.pdf

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2 thoughts on “Citrusy Orbs

  1. Interesting stuff… Why, do you think, isn’t there information indicating scurvy prior to the time of the Crusades? If it is caused by Vitamin C deficiency (which I am certainly not debating), one would think that it would have been quite prevalent prior to this. Were the Crusaders (and also sailors) getting access to something else at home that couldn’t travel with them? Sorry for all the questions! You are stimulating my brain! (Thank you for that!!)

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  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comments! I am glad that I was able to stimulate your brain. During my research, I did find other historical references to scurvy, which predated the Crusades. If I recall correctly, there is mention of similar symptoms described in the Bible. However, as I was unable to find the relevant passages for verification, I chose to omit it from my overall post. The Prinzo article does contain a section on historical references to scurvy, as well as some of the traditional treatments. You might want to give it a look!

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