Health Curiosities

Natural Viagra in the Grocery Aisle

Watermelon - More Than Just a Refreshing Snack?

You may have read some of the hype recently about watermelon being touted as a natural Viagra. It is true that watermelon contains phyto-nutrients, including lycopene, beta-carotene and citrulline, which cause healthy reactions in the body, according to Bhimu Patil, director of Texas A&M's Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Center.

The citrulline, specifically, can trigger production of the amino acid arginine, which helps relax the body's blood vessels, and can work "wonders on the heart and circulation system and maintains a good immune system," said Patil. This relaxing of the blood vessels is similar to what happens when a man takes Viagra, but "Watermelon may not be as organ-specific as Viagra," Patil said, "but it's a great way to relax blood vessels without any drug side-effects."

Todd Wehner, who studies watermelon breeding at North Carolina State University, said anyone taking Viagra shouldn't expect the same result from watermelon. "It sounds like it would be an effect that would be interesting but not a substitute for any medical treatment."

The bad news is that although citrulline causes a similar reaction as Viagra, it is not to be considered a viable natural alternative. Patil's research is valid, according to Penelope Perkins-Veazie, a USDA researcher in Lane, OK, but she says that it would take about six cups of watermelon to consume enough citrulline to boost the body's arginine level. "The problem you have when you eat a lot of watermelon is you tend to run to the bathroom more," she said. Watermelon is a natural diuretic and was even used as a homeopathic remedy for kidney problems before dialysis was widely available.

An additional problem with consuming large amounts of watermelon is that it would spike blood sugar levels to a level that could cause cramping. Patil said he would like to do future studies on how to reduce the sugar content in watermelon.

There is more citrulline is in the watermelon rind than in the flesh. Because the rind is not commonly eaten, Texas A&M researchers Steve King and Hae Jeen Bang are working to produce watermelon hybrids that would bring higher concentrations of citrulline to the flesh of the fruit.

Most people eat only the flesh, the rind and the seeds are edible. In Asia, roasted watermelon seeds are either seasoned and eaten as a snack food or ground up into cereal and used to make bread. In Southern American cooking, watermelon rind is sometimes marinated, pickled or candied. The rind and seeds can be made more pleasing to western palates by Puréeing the whole watermelon with other fruits, perhaps even mixed with a little plain yogurt.

So watermelon is not the equivalent of natural Viagra, but is there good news? Of course there is. Not only is watermelon tasty and refreshing but it's an extremely nutrient-dense food that has tremendous health benefits and contains more nutrients per calorie than many other foods. Watermelon is particularly rich in four nutrients:

  • Lycopene
    • Lycopene is an antioxidant in many red-colored fruits. Scientific studies have shown that Lycopene reduces the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. Men can lessen their risk of heart attack by eating a diet high in lycopene.
    • Lycopene has been studied in humans and has been found to help protect against a list of cancers, including prostate, breast, endometrial, lung and colorectal cancers.
  • Vitamin B6
    • Vitamin B6 promotes chemicals in the brain that help people to cope with anxiety and panic.
  • Vitamin C
    • A cup of watermelon has 24.3% of the daily value for vitamin C.
    • Vitamin C boosts the immune system and slows down aging and certain medical conditions, such as cataracts.
    • Vitamin C is part of the now-famous disease-fighting antioxidant trio. Watermelon also contains another part of the trio, beta-carotene. Some researchers believe that beta-carotene and vitamin C are can prevent cancer, heart disease and other chronic problems.
  • Vitamin A
    • A cup of watermelon provides, through its beta-carotene, 11.1% of the DV for vitamin A.
    • Vitamin A works much like Vitamin C, in that it helps boost immunity by enhancing infection-fighting action in lymphocytes, but it also help your body fight off infection. It also helps prevent night blindness.

Watermelon is also rich in the B vitamins needed to produce energy. It is also a good source of vitamin B1, magnesium, thiamin and potassium. So, eating watermelon is much like taking a multivitamin, only it tastes much better.

Nutritionists have known about watermelon's health benefits for a long time, and recently, the American Heart Association gave watermelon the "heart healthy" seal of approval. Watermelon may also help with the inflammation that contributes to conditions like asthma, atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer and arthritis.

When we were little, eating watermelon was about taste, but now that we're older and wiser there is a lot more to inspire us to eat more of this delectable thirst-quencher.

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