July 4, 2008

Watermelon Reportedly Has a (Very Mild) Viagra-Like Effect


By Betsy Blaney

The Associated Press


A slice of cool, fresh watermelon is a juicy way to top off a Fourth of July cookout and one that researchers say has effects similar to Viagra's - but don't necessarily expect it to keep the fireworks going all night long.

Watermelons contain an ingredient called citrulline that can trigger production of a compound that helps relax blood vessels, similar to what happens when a man takes Viagra, said scientists in Texas, one of the nation's top producers of seedless watermelons.

Found in the flesh and rind of watermelons, citrulline reacts with the body's enzymes when consumed in large quantities and is changed into arginine, an amino acid that benefits the heart and the circulatory and immune systems.

"Arginine boosts nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels, the same basic effect that Viagra has, to treat erectile dysfunction and maybe even prevent it," said Bhimu Patil, a researcher and director of Texas A&M's Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Center.

"Watermelon may not be as organ-specific as Viagra, 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," Wehner said.

The nitric oxide can also help with angina, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, said the study, which was paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More citrulline - about 60 percent - is found in watermelon rind than in the flesh, Patil said, but that can vary. Scientists may be able to find ways to boost the concentrations in the flesh, he said.

Citrulline is found in all colors of watermelon and is highest in the yellow-fleshed types, said Penelope Perkins-Veazie, a USDA researcher in Lane, Okla.

She said Patil's research is valid, but with a caveat: One would need to eat about six cups of watermelon to get 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," Perkins-Veazie said. Watermelon is a diuretic and was a homeopathic treatment for kidney patients before dialysis became widespread.

Also, the sugar in that much watermelon would spill into the bloodstream - a jolt that could cause cramping, Perkins-Veazie said.

Patil said he would like to do studies on how to reduce the sugar content .

The relationship between citrulline and arginine might also prove helpful to those who are obese or have type-2 diabetes.

Citrulline is present in other curcubits, such as cucumbers and cantaloupe, at very low levels, and in the milk protein casein. The highest concentration is in walnut seedlings, Perkins-Veazie said.

"But they're bitter ."

how it works

Watermelon contains citrulline, which reacts with the body's enzymes and changes to arginine, which helps circulation.

Originally published by BY BETSY BLANEY.

(c) 2008 Virginian - Pilot. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.