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Bitter Orange

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This fact sheet provides basic information about bitter orange—common names, usefulness and safety, and resources for more information.

 

Common Names:  bitter orange, Seville orange, sour orange, zhi shi

Latin Name: 
Citrus aurantium

Background

  • Native to eastern Africa and tropical Asia, bitter orange now is grown throughout the Mediterranean region and elsewhere, including California and Florida.
  • Bitter orange has been used in traditional Chinese medicine and by indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest for constipation. Amazonian natives also used it for nausea and indigestion.
  • Today, people use various bitter orange products as a dietary supplement for heartburn, loss of appetite, nasal congestion, and weight loss. It is also applied to the skin for pain, bruises, and bed sores.
  • Bitter orange, used in some weight-loss products, contains synephrine, which is similar to the main chemical in the herb ephedra. Ephedra is banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because it raises blood pressure and is linked to heart attack and stroke.
  • The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) placed synephrine (bitter orange) on its current list of banned drugs.
  • The fruit, peel, flower, and oil are used and can be taken by mouth in tablets and capsules. Bitter orange oil can be applied to the skin.

How Much Do We Know?

  • Only a few studies have investigated the usefulness of bitter orange as a dietary supplement for health purposes in people.

What Have We Learned?

  • Applying bitter orange oil to the skin may help with ringworm, jock itch, and athlete’s foot infections.
  • There’s not enough scientific evidence to support the use of bitter orange for other health purposes.

What Do We Know About Safety?

  • There are case reports of healthy people experiencing fainting, heart attack, and stroke after taking bitter orange alone or with caffeine. However, evidence regarding the effects of bitter orange (alone or combined with other substances, such as caffeine and green tea) on the heart and cardiovascular system are inconclusive.
  • Because products that contain bitter orange may be unsafe, pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid them.

Keep in Mind

  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

NCCIH Clearinghouse

The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

Toll-free in the U.S.: 
1-888-644-6226
TTY (for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers): 
1-866-464-3615
E-mail: 

PubMed®

A service of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals. For guidance from NCCIH on using PubMed, see How To Find Information About Complementary Health Approaches on PubMed.

Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), National Institutes of Health (NIH)

ODS seeks to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements by evaluating scientific information, supporting research, sharing research results, and educating the public. Its resources include publications (such as Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know), fact sheets on a variety of specific supplement ingredients and products (such as vitamin D and multivitamin/mineral supplements), and the PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset.

E-mail: 

Key References

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

* Note: PDF files require a viewer such as the free Adobe Reader.

NCCIH Publication No.: 
D390
Updated: 
September 2016

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.


NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advise of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.


U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

nccih.nih.gov

This page last modified November 29, 2016