February 27, 2008

Nutrition - Watermelon is an excellent source of arginine

Watermelon is an excellent food source of the amino acid citrulline, which the human body uses to make the amino acid arginineNutrition - Watermelon is an excellent source of arginine

Nutritional Benefits of Watermelon - Watermelon is an excellent food source of the amino acid citrulline, which the human body uses to make the amino acid arginine, which helps cells divide, wounds heal, and ammonia to be removed from the body.

Watermelon also contains plentiful amounts of the health-promoting antioxidant lycopene as an added bonus.

L-arginine increases the body's ability to produce Nitric Oxide when needed, and restores sexual function in impotent men. Studies have shown that oral arginine boosts immunity, fights cancer, promotes healing, protects and detoxifies the liver, improves thymus function and enhances male fertility.

The following research from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, 21 March 2007, by Erin Peabody, illustrates the Nutritional Benefits of Watermelon.

Nothing says you care like the gift of a small watermelon. At least that's the custom in China, where the offer of this red-fleshed cucurbit is considered a fine way to please a gracious host or ill friend.

Now scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have found that there's far more to this gastronomic gesture than just tradition and good taste. In addition to containing plentiful amounts of the health-promoting antioxidant lycopene, watermelon is an excellent source of the amino acid citrulline.

And ARS researchers in Lane, Okla., and their collaborators have found that not only are watermelon's citrulline stores abundant--they're also readily usable. Their findings are reported in the current issue of the journal Nutrition.

The human body uses citrulline to make another important amino acid—arginine—which plays a key role in cell division, wound healing and the removal of ammonia from the body.

ARS plant physiologist Penelope Perkins-Veazie and nutritionist Julie Collins were interested in finding out just how bioavailable watermelon's citrulline is, since the fruit is one of few foods to contain high levels of it. Perkins-Veazie works at the ARS South Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Lane, while Collins—previously based at the Lane laboratory—works at Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton.

Before analyzing it in the lab, plant physiologist Penelope Perkins-Veazie (right) and technician Shelia Magby examine a freshly sliced mini-watermelonThe two collaborated with amino acid expert Guoyao Wu at Texas A&M University in College Station.

After analyzing the arginine levels of volunteers who'd recently consumed differing amounts of concentrated watermelon juice, the scientists determined that ingesting the juice increased the volunteers' levels of plasma arginine - likely from conversion of citrulline.

Volunteers in the study completed one three-week stint during which they drank about three eight-ounce glasses of watermelon juice every day, and one three-week period of drinking about twice that much of the juice daily.

For comparison, other volunteers neither drank the juice nor ate watermelon or certain other foods that would skew study results.

Blood levels of arginine, synthesized in the body from the citrulline provided by the watermelon juice, were 11 percent higher in volunteers tested after three weeks on the three-glasses-a-day regimen (24 ounces), and 18 percent higher following the six-daily-glasses regimen (48 ounces), when compared to levels in samples from volunteers who didn't drink the watermelon juice.

Medical researchers are currently evaluating arginine as a possible treatment for high blood pressure, elevated glucose levels and the vascular complications associated with sickle-cell disease.

If such studies pan out, concentrated forms of watermelon could represent an all-natural amino acid source. The fruit's good-for-the-body lycopene is an added bonus.

Perkins-Veazie is now focused on finding an optimal way of extracting citrulline from watermelon.

Part of this article and photos courtesy of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency. Used with permission.

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