Food as Medicine: Mango (Mangifera indica, Anacardiaceae)
History and Traditional Use
Range and Habitat
Mangifera indica (Anacardiaceae) is a tropical tree that grows from 33 feet to 131 feet in height and produces large, oval-shaped fruits that are red and gold when ripe, though some cultivars are green or yellow.1 The smooth-edged leaves of the mango tree are reddish when young, becoming dark green and shiny as they mature. The tree produces small pinkish-white flowers that precede the fruit.2,3 The mango fruit is a drupe, or stone fruit, containing a large single seed surrounded by fleshy pulp and a thin, leathery skin.4 The mango tree begins to bear fruit four to six years after planting and continues to produce fruit for about 40 years.3,4 Trees older than 10 years tend toward alternate or biennial bearing, producing fruit every other year.5
While the most commonly used part of the plant is the fruit, the mango tree has a variety of traditional uses that make use of the roots, peel, stem bark, leaves, flowers, and seed kernels. These parts typically contain greater amounts of bioactive compounds, including mangiferin, then the fruit.4 Belonging to the same plant family as the cashew (Anacardium occidentale) and pistachio (Pistacia vera), the mango is native to India and Burma, and has been cultivated since 2000 BCE.2 The mango was introduced to Africa about 1,000 years ago and to tropical America in the 19th century.1,2 Wild fruits have a minimal resemblance to the cultivated mangos, having a much smaller size and unpleasant turpentine-like taste. Currently, mangos are grown in tropical and warm temperate climates.3 India remains the largest producer, growing 65% of the world’s mango crop.5
Phytochemicals and Constituents
The macro- and micro nutrient composition and bioactive compounds present in M. indica contribute to its many health benefits. Mango fruits are a rich source of vitamins A, B and C. Mangos are also a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.3 Soluble fiber can help prevent cardiovascular disease and improve gastrointestinal health.
Mango is a source of many pharmacologically and medically important chemicals, including mangiferin, mangiferin acid, hydroxy-mangiferin, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and carotenes.6 Different parts of the plant have different chemical compositions. The bark, for example, contains catechins, amino acids, and phenolic and triterpenoid compounds.7,8 Due to these constituents, mango bark extract has shown antioxidant, immune system-enhancing, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activities, which correspond to many of mango’s traditional medicinal uses.7 The xanthone mangiferin is found in many different plants across the Anacardiaceae family and shows promising results in the areas of antitumor, anti-diabetic, and anti-microbial actions.
The health benefits of the fruit pulp are due to its high concentration of antioxidant nutrients and phytochemicals, such as carotenoids. Carotenoids play an important role in protective health mechanisms against some forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration, as well as improving immune health.9 Specifically, mangos are high in beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Mango also contains smaller amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids important for maintaining eye health and preventing macular degeneration. These phytochemicals are antioxidants, meaning that they slow or prevent the oxidative process, thereby preventing or repairing damage to cells in the body.10
The polyphenols that have been identified in the mango fruit include gallic acid, Gallo-tannins, quercetin, isoquercitrin, mangiferin, ellagic acid, and beta-glucogallin. These polyphenols have powerful antioxidant activity as well as other potential therapeutic effects. Gallic acid, for example, is known to have anti-inflammatory and antitumor activities, while ellagic acid has been found to exhibit antimutagenic, antiviral, and antitumor effects.4
The most biologically active compound that has been studied in the mango tree is mangiferin. Mangiferin is synthesized by the plant as a chemical defense compound.6,11 Plant parts that contain the highest amounts of mangiferin include the leaves, stem bark, heartwood, and roots. Currently, researchers are investigating potential methods of processing mango bark and peel into a palatable ingredient or food additive. Mangiferin (not to be confused with the previously mentioned mangiferin) is one of a number of enzymes present in mangos that improves digestion. Others include catechol oxidase and lactase.3
Historical and Commercial Uses
Mangifera indica has been used in Ayurveda, India’s primary system of traditional medicine, for more than 4,000 years. The mango was thought to have aphrodisiacal properties and is still viewed as sacred today.3A variety of the plant’s parts are used as a paste or powder for cleaning the teeth, and the juice of the mango is considered a restorative tonic, as well as a treatment for heat stroke.6 Numerous parts of the mango tree are used in Ayurvedic medicine as an antiseptic, an astringent to tone lax tissues, a laxative, a diuretic, and to increase sweating, promote digestion, and expel parasitic worms or other internal parasites.12 The seeds have been used as an astringent and as a treatment for asthma. Fumes from the burning leaves are used as an inhalant to relieve hiccups and sore throats.6 The bark is used as an astringent in diphtheria and rheumatism (disorders of the joints and connective tissues), and the gum was used in dressings for cracked feet and for scabies (an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite [Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis]).
Current Ayurvedic practices use various parts of the mango for different ailments. For diarrhea, mango leaves are pounded together and taken with rice water.13 For nosebleeds, the juice of the mango seed is placed into the nostrils. For an enlarged spleen, ripe mango juice is consumed with honey. To treat gonorrhea, mango bark is pounded and added to milk and sugar. In some tropical countries, mango is actually used as a meat tenderizer, due to the power of the proteolytic enzymes that break down proteins.3In traditional ethnoveterinary medicine, all parts of the mango are used to treat abscesses, broken horns, rabid dog bites, tumors, snake bites, stings, heat stroke, miscarriage, bacterial illness, blisters and wounds in the mouth, inflammation of the inner ear, colic, diarrhea, liver disorders, excessive urination, tetanus, and asthma.14
Among the Tikunas, an indigenous people of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, a mango leaf decoction was used as a contraceptive and abortifacient. Reportedly, taking a cupful on two successive days during menstruation acted as a contraceptive, and taking it for three days caused abortion.11,15
Mango fruit is processed at two stages of maturity. Green fruit is used to make chutney, pickles, curries, and dehydrated products like dried mango, amchoor (raw mango powder), and Panna (green mango beverage). Ripe fruit is processed into canned and frozen slices, pulp, concentrate, juices, nectar, jam, purée, cereal flakes, toffee, and various dried products.4
Studies indicate that M. indica possesses myriad therapeutic properties, including antidiabetic, antioxidant, antiviral, cardiotonic, hypotensive, and anti-inflammatory.6 Each of the mango’s parts — fruit, pulp, peel, seed, leaves, flowers, and bark — can be used therapeutically.
A 2000 study found that mango stem bark extract showed a powerful scavenging activity of hydroxyl radicals and acted as a chelator of iron.6 Although iron is an essential mineral, it is toxic in excessive amounts. Iron chelators could be an important approach to lessen iron-induced oxidative damage and prevent iron accumulation in diseases in which accumulation is prevalent, such as hemochromatosis, a metabolic disorder in which the body absorbs too much iron, and thalassemia, a rare, inherited blood disorder caused by a lack of hemoglobin, which results in fewer healthy red blood cells.4 This same study found a significant inhibitory effect on the degradation of brain cell membranes in an animal model and prevented DNA damage caused by some chemotherapy treatments.6,16
Polyphenolic compounds and related bioactivity are higher in the mango peel than the fruit, and higher still in the leaves and stem bark.4 The bark is one of the main parts of the tree used for medicinal purposes. A standardized aqueous extract of M. indica stem bark called Vimang (LABIOFAM Entrepreneurial Group; La Habana, Cuba) has been developed in Cuba. This extract has shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties and has been used in many countries for the treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding, diarrhea, syphilis, diabetes, scabies, cutaneous infections, and anemia.4,7
Much of the current research looks at extracts of mango bark or seed. There is a limited amount of literature that looks into the consumption of the mango fruit itself. However, a 2011 study looked at the consumption of freeze-dried mango fruit and its effects on weight loss and glucose tolerance, compared to hypolipidemic and hypoglycemic drugs, in mice fed a high-fat diet.17 In the study, consumption of freeze-dried mango prevented the increase in fat mass and the percentage of body fat. Compared with controls, mice given the freeze-dried mango had improved glucose tolerance and lowered insulin resistance.
Functional and medicinal properties of the non-fruit portions of the mango provide promising data for future uses of the plant and may allow for less waste of the non-edible parts of the mango. The mango peel, for example, constitutes about 15-20% of the mango fruit and typically is discarded prior to consuming the fruit. In commercial processing, the discarded peels become a wasteful by-product.18 A 2015 study conducted chemical analysis and determination of the bioactive compounds in a flour made from green mango peel.19 The mango peel flour had 54 g of total dietary fiber per 100 g of dry sample, compared to 1.8 g of total dietary fiber in wheat flour. The mango peel flour also contained 21.7 mg/g of total phenolic contents and 22.4 mg/g of total flavonoid contents.
The results of this study suggest that the mango peel flour exhibited functional properties similar to wheat flour, and could serve as an acceptable substitute in baked goods and other flour-containing foods. Dietary fiber in mango peel has been shown as a favorable source of high-quality polysaccharides due to its high starch, cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and pectin content combined with its low-fat content.18 In Vitro starch studies suggest low glycemic responses from mango peel fiber, which suggests a potential use for diabetic individuals.
Mango kernel oil has recently attracted attention due to its unsaturated fatty acid composition.18 Mango kernel oil has been widely researched for its function as an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent due to its high polyphenolic content.4 The major phenolic compounds in mango seed kernels are (in order of decreasing concentration): tannins, vanillin, coumarin, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, gallic acid, and mangiferin, all providing antioxidant protection.
Possibly explained by its distant relation to poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix, Anacardiaceae) and poison ivy (T. radicans), mango peel may be irritating to the skin,3 particularly to people who are highly sensitive to these plants. This is due to the presence of alk(en)ylresorcinols, a mixture of substances that can cause contact dermatitis to those who are allergic or sensitive to it.20 Alk(en)ylresorcinol is similar to urushiol, the toxic resin that causes an itchy rash in those who come into contact with poison ivy. These allergens are more prevalent in the peel than the flesh. In one study, four patients developed hives and eczematous rash after exposure to mangos or mango trees. Children and other persons with food allergies should take caution when handling and consuming mango. Although allergy to mango is infrequent, mango has been identified as an allergy-provoking food in some individuals with other food allergies.
Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 cup mango fruit)
1.35 g protein
24.7 g carbohydrate
0.63 g fat
Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup mango fruit)
Excellent source of:
Vitamin C: 60.1 mg (100.2% DV)
Vitamin A: 1,785 IU (35.7% DV)
Very good source of:
Folate: 71 mcg (17.75% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 2.6 g (10.4% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (10% DV)
Good source of:
Vitamin K: 6.9 mcg (8.63% DV)
Potassium: 277 mg (7.9% DV)
Vitamin E: 1.48 mg (7.33% DV)
Niacin: 1.1 mg (5.5% DV)
Magnesium: 16 mg (4% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.06 mg (3.53% DV)
Thiamin: 0.05 mg (3.33% DV)
Phosphorus: 23 mg (2.3% DV)
Calcium: 18 mg (1.8% DV)
Iron: 0.26 mg (1.44% DV)
DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Recipe: Mango and Watermelon Salad
Adapted from Mango.org22
- 2 large, ripe mangos, peeled, pitted, and diced
- 1 cup watermelon, diced
- 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
- 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 cup fresh arugula, washed and dried
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Combine mango, watermelon, onion, pepper, tomato, and arugula in a large bowl. Toss to combine.
Whisk together remaining ingredients and taste, adjusting seasoning if necessary. Drizzle dressing over the salad, toss to
- Van Wyk B-E. Food Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2006.
- The National Geographic Society. Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society; 2008.
- Murray M, Pizzorno J, Pizzorno L. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books; 2005.
- Masibo M, He Q. Mango bioactive compounds and related nutraceutical properties: A review. Food Rev Int. 2009;25:346-370.
- Morton JF. Mango. In: Morton JF. Fruits of Warm Climates. Miami, FL: J.F. Morton; 1987:221-239.
- Shah KA, Patel MB, Patel RJ, Parmar PK. Mangifera indica (Mango). Pharmacogn Rev. 2010;4(7):42-48.
- Wauthoz N, Balde A, Balde ES, Damme MV, Duez P. Ethnopharmacology of Mangifera indica L. bark and pharmacological studies of its main c-glucosylxanthone, mangiferin. Int J Biomed Pharma Sci. 2007;1(2):112-119.
- Hamid K, Algahtani A, Kim MS, et al. Tetracyclic triterpenoids in herbal medicines and their activities in diabetes and its complications. Curr Top Med Chem. 2015;15(23):2406-2430.
- Hewavitharana AK, Tan ZW, Shimada R, Shaw PN, Flanagan BM. Between fruit variability of the bioactive compounds, B-carotene and mangiferin, in mango. Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013;70:158-163.
- Johnson EJ. The role of carotenoids in human health. Nutr Clin Care. 2002;5(2):56-65.
- Schultes RE, Raffauf RF. The Healing Forest: Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia.Portland, OR: Dioscorides Press; 1990.
- Johnson EJ. The role of carotenoids in human health. Nutr Clin Care. 2002;5(2):56-65.
- Amra (Mangifera indica) National R&D Facility for Rasayana website. Available here. Accessed May 19, 2016.
- Williamson EM. Major Herbs of Ayurveda. London, UK: Elsevier Science Limited; 2002.
- Duke JA, Vasquez R. Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1994.
- Martinez G, Delgado R, Perez G, Garrido G, Nunez Selles AJ, Leon OS. Evaluation of the in-vitroantioxidant activity of Mangifera indica L: extract (Vimang). Phytother Res. 2000;14:424–7.
- Lucas EA, Li W, Peterson SK, et.al. Mango modulates body fat and plasma glucose and lipids in mice fed a high-fat diet. Brit J Nutr. 2011;106:1495-1505.
- Tiwari BK, Brunton NP, Brennan CS. Handbook of Plant Food Phytochemicals: Sources, Stability and Extraction. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2013.
- Abidin NSA, Mohamad SN, Jaafar MN. Chemical composition, antioxidant activity and functional properties of mango (Mangifera indica L. var Perlis Sunshine) peel flour. Appl Mech Mater. 2015(754-755):1065-1070.
- Knödler M, Reisenhauer K, Schieber A, Carle R. Quantitative determination of allergenic 5-Alk(en)ylresorcinols in mango (Mangifera indica L.) peel, pulp, and fruit products by high-performance liquid chromatography. J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57:3639-3644.
- Basic Report, 09176, Mangos, raw. Agricultural Research Service, USDA website. Available here. Accessed May 19, 2016.
- National Mango Board. Mango and watermelon salad. Mango.org website. Available here. Accessed May 18, 2016.