Opinion » Antidote

Precious Purple Potions

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I just read your latest column on the Boise Weekly Web site and surely do enjoy your humor. You ought to write a book. While I'm thinking of it, please give me your opinion of the much-touted Mangosteen fruit juice. I'm trying to naturally boost my immune system after two carcinomas, both very small, in 2002.

—Polly

A mangosteen looks a bit like a bomb Wile E. Coyote might toss at the Road Runner. But the most dangerous thing about these Southeast Asian fruits is the deep purple stain their inky husks leave. Very popular tropical delights in their native Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia, they are fragile and over-ripen quickly so most Westerners have never tasted one. Inside a thick, dye-filled rind lie a few fragile white mouthfuls, described as tasting like lychee, plum, papaya and unripe strawberries. In tribute to this delicate, distinctive taste the mangosteen has been christened the "Queen of Fruits" which, funnily enough, was the unfortunate nickname I was given by a particularly large bully on my childhood playground.

Most products in the next-wonder-cure category are made from some fruit, herb or root having a long history of use in folk medicine or ancient remedies. In this department, the mangosteen has much in common with a former FEMA director: a padded resume and a short list of accomplishments. Preparations of the fruit have had limited historical benefit for diarrhea, dysentery and skin infections. The most interesting chronicled use is from Malaysia, where a tea made from the thick, leathery mangosteen leaves was mixed with green banana and gum resin to create a dressing for the wound made by circumcision.

Flash forward a few years. Combine the discovery of possibly cancer-fighting antioxidants occurring in fruits and vegetables, with the detection of relatively large amount of xanthones (a type of antioxidant) in the mangosteen pericarp (husk), then throw into the mix a couple of former employees of a successful multi-level marketing company. You now have the recipe for XanGo, the first group to exploit this budding research for fast profits. The Utah-based network marketing company has created an awfully expensive fruit juice—forgive me, dietary supplement—that is made from the mangosteen fruit and its bitter rind, along with nine other more pedestrian juices and purees, like apple and pear. After failing in what could be too easily described as a juicy patent dispute, XanGo is now challenged in the marketplace by other mangosteen supplements.

Salesmanship aside, when you look at the less than two dozen research papers that have been published on extracts of this fruit in the last 15 years, you'll find that nearly all are of the petri dish/test tube type and not one is a clinical human trial—I'd take even a badly designed trial. That is not to say that xanthones and other antioxidants don't have value; but it is a long stretch to promise loaves and fishes based on what amounts to a single Japanese rat study. A great number of other fruits and vegetables, not to mention vitamins and supplements, have significantly more data demonstrating clinical effectiveness. Unfortunately, no one becomes financially independent by network marketing 89-cent boxes of frozen spinach.

I believe the majority of those using, and possibly selling, mangosteen products are well intentioned and sincere; their quest for health and concern for others is genuine. However, at present, the premise on which that intention is based is faulty. Perhaps Dr. Ralph Moss, a Ph.D. medical writer, speaker and documentarian, has put it best: "Products such as mangosteen exploit humanity's understandable desire to discover simple and painless solutions to intractable problems." If a statement such as this were required on every jar of cellulite cream, I'd have precious little to write about. The complete article on the subject by Dr. Moss can be found at the excellent cancerdecisions.com Web site.

The advice I will give may seem contradictory; if you are happy with mangosteen products, continue. I've found nothing to lead me to believe they are harmful to anything beyond your checkbook. However, considering your history, please don't let your use of these supplements alter plans for routine medical exams. No doubt, financial interest in these world-class ink bombs will spur further research—just this month, a study was released showing mangosteen extract inhibiting the growth acne bacteria in the lab. But, given my experience on the playground, I don't expect teenagers to be exceptionally kind to a group of purple-faced geeks, even if they do have clear skin.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send cartoon bombs and health-related questions to theantidote@edrabin.com (on the Web at www.edrabin.com).