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The Mangosteen Myth

By David Mendosa

Last Update: October 10, 2006

I took 2 ounces of “Essential Vitamins Plus Mangosteen” every day for two weeks, and now I feel great!

But this is no testimonial. Actually, I felt just as good even before I started taking this stuff. I attribute most of that feeling to working out a half hour every day on my treadmill.

I also noticed that while I was taking mangosteen, I itched so badly that my sleep was disturbed. Of course, it is as hard to attribute my itching to the mangosteen as it is to ascribe any benefits to it.

Mangosteen is a tropical plant, technically known as Garcinia mangostana L. The fruit is round and is dark to red purple, smooth on the outside. It comes from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

This mangosteen concoction probably tastes too good. That’s one (admitted poor) reason why I question whether it did anything for me or will do anything for you. Some people seem to think that I use a lot of stuff that tastes bad. They might well say, “Something that tastes this good can't do anything for you.”

Actually, they seem to be right that the mangosteen has no effect, despite whopping claims to the contrary.

The Claims
Mangosteen’s antioxidants are anti-diabetic, says a press release on “Amazing Folk Medicine Remedies from the Asian Mangosteen Fruit - Now Bottled for the World to Drink”. The same press release claims that it is also antidepressant, anti-leukemic, anti-microbial (fungus and bacteria), and anti-viral.

Any food that versatile immediately gets my interest — and skepticism.

One Frederic Templeman M.D. (who I have not been able to identify except by his association with mangosteen) says, “My experience with Mangosteen extract and diabetes has shown that it appears to improve glucose control effectively in patients whose pancreas continues to product insulin. I suspect that it exerts its effects by reducing insulin resistance in body tissues. Mangosteen does not increase appetite or cause water retention like glitazones (Actose). Mangosteen is a potent antioxidant.”

The good doctor also says that “I've never encountered anything that has this amount of independent research. I’m convinced that the Mangosteen fruit will, without a doubt, be the most successful food supplement ever.” He apparently wrote Mangosteen: The X Factor, but Amazon.com never heard of it.

A correspondent tried to get me interested in mangosteen. Among the reams of promotional literature sent me, the summary is essentially:

“Despite the fact that mangosteen has only recently been discovered in the West, there have already been literally hundreds of research papers and third party studies conducted on Mangosteen throughout the world. This tropical fruit offers the single highest source of Xanthones (antioxidants) ever discovered and can quite possibly be the food of the future…Traditionally utilized to control pain, fever and to ward off infections of every kind, to protect against disease, increase energy, and as a natural anti-inflammatory, the whole Mangosteen fruit certainly promises to lead the way in the health arena…Dr. James Duke, a renowned ethnobotonist, has place on the internet a phytochemical and ethnobotonical database with scientific abstracts for the medical practitioner and lay person, depicting over 145 mind-boggling Mangosteen health benefits.”

A brochure on “Nature’s Miracles” that this correspondent sent me modestly claims only 21 benefits:

  • Maintains immune system health
  • Protects from free radical damage
  • Supports microbiological balance
  • Provides positive mental support
  • Promotes joint flexibility
  • Anti-seborrheaic (prevents skin disorders)
  • Anti-lipidemic (lowers LDL)
  • Anti-pyretic (lowers fevers)
  • Anti-neuralgic (reduces nerve pain)
  • Anti-vertigo (prevents dizziness)
  • Anti Alzheimerian/Parkinson (helps prevent dementia
  • Increases energy
  • Anti-depressant
  • Anti-diabetic
  • Anti-microbial
  • Anti-ulcer
  • Anti-tumor
  • Anti-viral
  • Anti-aging
  • Anti-biotic
  • Anti-inflamatory

The Facts
Dr. Duke’s database is at http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/duke/farmacy2.pl?1228. It indicates only (as far as I can see) that Mangostin (as spelled) has antibacterial, antiseptic, and fungicide activities. It is linked at Dr. Ralph Moss’s thoughtful “A Friendly Skeptic Looks at Mangosteen” at http://chetday.com/mangosteen.htm.

Dr. Moss notes that instead of the hundreds of research papers and third party studies on mangosteen, at the time he wrote there were only 29 articles in PubMed [MEDLINE]. There seem to be only 21 now on MEDLINE, long way from the claim. And not one of these are studies of the in vitro effect of mangosteen on human beings, much less randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of a medical treatment, the medical gold standard.

Whenever I run across a new claim for a natural product, the first person I think of is Dr. Steven Bratman, the author of The Natural Pharmacist, which you can find on the Web at several sites, including Memorial Hospital Jacksonville. Dr. Bratman is a physician practicing in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can read about him at http://www.orthorexia.com/index.php?page=Bratman.

Dr. Bratman wrote me:

“I investigated mangosteen earlier this year. There is a teensy bit of basic science (test tube studies finding that mangosteen, like ten thousand plants, has antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral actions) but ZERO meaningful clinical research that shows it has any useful action in human beings. Mangosteen juice is just a random product-of-the-year sort of thing, a marketing initiative like so many others, conceived in the spirit of profit, and no more likely to produce any special health benefits than any other plant chosen at random out the botanical universe.

“Plants have antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal qualities to protect themselves. Their actions in this manner are like bleach or antibacterial soap: they kill microorganisms on contact. They are antiseptics, not antibiotics (as often falsely claimed). Bleach kills almost every microorganism, but if you have a cold, will drinking bleach help? Drinking antibacterial soap? No. Antibiotics are substances that can be taken internally, are absorbed, and are effective against bacteria in the extremely low concentrations that they appear at in the blood. Test tube studies of things like Mangosteen involve putting extracts directly onto the microorganisms. Now, if a study appeared in which people with infections were given mangosteen or placebo, and the people in the mangosteen group got better faster, that would mean something: but nothing like that has been done.

“Regarding its antioxidant properties…No one seems to have noticed that the blush is off the rose regarding antioxidants. They’ve largely failed; there have been enough failures, anyway, that it no longer makes sense to say of X herb that “it has antioxidant properties, so it must have many health benefits.” There is not a single example of an antioxidant that has been thoroughly tested and proven to have health value by virtue of being an antioxidant. Quite the contrary. The largest double-blind studies in history were performed on the two likeliest suspects, beta carotene and alpha tocopherol, and failed to find benefit. There are numerous preliminary studies finding some benefit with one antioxidant or another, but this only seems to be true so long as the studies remain preliminary; with few exceptions, every time confirming research has been done on a particular antioxidant it has failed to prove effective (by virtue of its antioxidant properties, anyway.)”

In addition to Dr. Bratman’s concerns I am also skeptical of any network marketing program. The New Vision website states that “New Vision offers a fresh new approach for success in network marketing.” Another name for network marketing is multi-level marketing. New Vision says that it is a member of the “Direct Selling Association.”

Conclusion
My recommendation is that you don’t waste your money on mangosteen. Instead, buy — and use — a treadmill. 


This article originally appeared on Mendosa.com on December 25, 2004.

Updates

If you hate this article  —  as hundreds if not thousands of people who sell mangosteen products in multi-level (network) marketing schemes apparently do  —  you will be wasting your time by writing me. I don’t respond to hate mail.

There is, however, one excellent website about mangosteen, http://www.mangosteen.com/, that I can recommend for your further information. The webmaster of that site wrote me, “Much enjoyed your comments. And if I may say so, ‘ditto.’ Head off to http://www.mangosteen.com/ and look at the ‘Science, non-science and nonsense page.’

I did look at it and recommend it to you.

Updated October 10, 2006
Xango warned about illegal claims.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned XanGo International of Lehi, Utah, to stop the distribution of brochures which claim that its mangosteen juice drink has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-cancer, anti-ulcer, and anti-allergic effects and a long list of other potential health benefits. See http://www.casewatch.org/fdawarning/prod/2006/xango.shtml

XanGo International is a multilevel marketing company that sells products through independent distributors who are encouraged to recruit other distributors. The FDA obtained the brochures through contact information given at a recruitment seminar. A company attorney has stated that XanGo should not be held responsible for the claims, because the brochures were distributed by an independent publisher that shows up uninvited to its workshops.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database states that there is insufficient information to conclude that mangosteen if effective. See Quackwatch.

See also: XanGo and the FDA and XanGo Addressing FDA Health Claim Concerns and How the Controversial Yet Popular Supplement Business Emerged in Utah


    David Mendosa is a freelance journalist and consultant specializing in diabetes and lives in Boulder, Colorado. When he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in February 1994, he began to write entirely about that condition. His articles and columns have appeared in many of the major diabetes magazines and websites. His own website, David Mendosa’s Diabetes Directory, established in 1995, was one of the first and is now one of the largest with that focus. Every month he also publishes an online newsletter called “Diabetes Update.” He is a co-author of What Makes My Blood Glucose Go Up...And Down? (New York: Marlowe & Co., August 2003).


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