Gac Fruit Health Benefits
Gac fruit health benefits are associated with its extremely high antioxidant levels, which help support prostate health and BPH treatment in men. This exotic red fruit is cultivated throughout Southeast Asia and China, where gac (Momordica cochinchinensis) is valued both as a food and as a traditional medicine.
Although the outer layer of gac, which is covered with bright red spikes, is toxic, gac fruit health benefits are harbored inside. The red squishy inner fruit contains extremely high levels of antioxidants, including the highest concentration of beta-carotene of any known fruit or vegetable, including carrots, which it bests by tenfold; and 70 times more lycopene than found in tomatoes. Gac, which is also known as Chinese bitter cucumber, is also an excellent source of zeaxanthin.
Gac fruit is used in various traditional dishes, including a rice preparation called xoi gac, and enjoyed as a fruit and in beverages. Traditional medicine practitioners have reaped gac fruit health benefits for treatment of burns, skin problems, and eye disorders. Gac juice is often used as a beverage to boost immunity and for reproduction, heart, and prostate problems.
All of these medicinal uses make sense when you consider the high antioxidant content of gac. However, because the cantaloupe-sized gac fruit is not expected to show up in US markets any time soon, the best way to reap gac fruit health benefits is through supplements.
Nutritional Analyses of Gac Fruit
A team in Thailand analyzed the phytochemicals in three parts of gac fruit: the peel, pulp, and aril (the fleshy covering of the seeds). They found that the aril contained the highest levels of both lycopene and beta-carotene, and the peel (yellow) contained the greatest amount of lutein. Other phytonutrients identified in gac fruit included gallic acid and rutin, among others.
The antioxidant activity levels of gac fruit extracts varied. Aril extract had the highest FRAP value (a measure of antioxidant power). The immature peel and pulp had the highest antioxidant activity, while the antioxidant value of seed extracts increased from the mature to the ripe stage. (Kubola 2011)
Gac pulp contains fat that assists in the absorption of the carotenes, vitamin E, and other fat-soluble nutrients in the fruit. Having the fat in powder form makes it much easier for individuals to reap gac fruit health benefits from the nutrients. Fortunately, a research team identified how to produce good quality gac powder that retains total antioxidant activity. (Kha 2010)
An evaluation of the carotenoids present in gac fruit was conducted by a Japanese research team using high-performance liquid chromatography. Lycopene was most abundant in the seed membrane, present at a concentration tenfold higher than what is found in fruits and vegetables rich in lycopene. The researchers also found that the lycopene and beta-carotene content of the seeds was much greater than that found in the pulp. (Aoki 2002)
A study conducted in rural Vietnam assessed gac fruit health benefits associated with its beta-carotene content as a source of provitamin A for children. A total of 185 preschoolers who had low hemoglobin concentrations of vitamin A were enrolled in the 30-day study. The children were assigned to one of three groups: a fruit group, who consumed xoi gac that contained 3.5 mg beta-carotene per serving; a powder group who consumed rice mixed with 5 mg synthetic beta-carotene powder; and a control group who consumed rice without gac.
After 30 days, children in the fruit and powder groups had significantly higher beta-carotene concentration increases than those in the control group. The mean plasma retinol concentration in the fruit group was significantly higher than that in the powder and control groups. Overall, the researchers concluded that “beta-carotene from xoi gac is a good source of provitamin A carotenoids.” They also concluded that “severely anemic children might particularly benefit from routine xoi gac consumption.” (Vuong 2002)
Other Gac Fruit Health Benefits
Gac fruit health benefits regarding the prostate are associated with its high lycopene content. Lycopene has been shown to be effective in preventing prostate cancer and in the treatment of BPH. Thus far no studies have examined the impact of gac extracts on prostate cancer or BPH. However, based on results of other research of lycopene and prostate health issues, gac could be helpful.
Gac has demonstrated some anticancer properties against other cancers, however. In a study published in Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin, scientists reported that a protein purified from gac seeds showed strong anti-tumor activity against human cervical, kidney, and small cell lung cancer cells. (Chuethong 2007) Another study found a water extract of gac to be effective against colon cancer in mice. (Tien 2005)
Gac fruit health benefits associated with it’s high levels of beta-carotene can not only promote immune system health and healthy vision but also enhance sperm production. Both lycopene and beta-carotene have demonstrated an ability to reduce the risk of heart attack, and zeaxanthin offers protection against ultraviolet ray damage to the eyes.
How To Use Gac Fruit
Currently, it’s a challenge to enjoy gac fruit health benefits from either the fruit or supplements. However, availability of gac supplements should improve as the fruit’s advantages become more well-known and research continues. Both gac liquid (mixed with other fruits) and gac oil softgels are on the market. No side effects have been reported to date.
Aoki H et al. Carotenoid pigments in GAC fruit (Momordica cochinchinensis SPRENG). Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 2002 Nov; 66(11): 2479-82
Chuethong J et al. Cochinin B, a novel ribosome-inactivating protein from the seeds of Momordica cochinchinensis. Biol Pharm Bull 2007 Mar; 30(3): 428-32
Kha TC et al. Effects of spray drying conditions on the physicochemical and antioxidant properties of the Gac (Momordica cochinchinensis) fruit aril powder. J Food Engrg 2010; 98: 385-92
Kubola J, Siriamornpun S. Phytochemicals and antioxidant activity of different fruit fractions (peel, pulp, aril and seed) of Thai gac (Momordica cochinchinensis Spreng). Food Chem 2011; 127: 1138-45
Nhung DTT et al. Changes in lycopene and beta-carotene contents in aril and oil of gac fruit during storage. Food Chem 2010; 121:326-31
Tien PG et al. Inhibition of tumor growth and angiogenesis by water extract of Gac fruit (Momordica cochinchinensis Spreng). Int J Oncol 2005 Apr; 26(4): 881-89
Vuong LT et al. Plasma beta-carotene and retinol concentrations of children increase after a 30-d supplementation with the fruit Momordica cochinchinensis (gac). Am J Clin Nutr 2002 May; 75(5): 872-79