Citrus bergamot is a citrus fruit that’s native to Italy. Essential oils from the peel and the extract from the juice are used to make tea and medicine.
Bergamot is also commonly called also called bergamot orange, Citrus bergamia, or sour orange.
Historically, bergamot has been used as a remedy for fever and parasitic diseases.
Modern research suggests that citrus bergamot benefits heart health, specifically by reducing cholesterol. It’s also thought to lower blood sugar levels.
In this article, we will look at the health benefits of citrus bergamot, its safety, and its history.
Table of Contents
- What is Citrus Bergamot?
- Health Benefits of Citrus Bergamot:
- Citrus Bergamot Safety:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Citrus Bergamot?
Citrus bergamot is a perennial in the Rutaceae (i.e. citrus) family. It grows in a southern region of Italy known as Calabria (the “toe” of the boot).
The fruit of this tree, known as bergamot orange, is a fragrant citrus fruit that’s the size of a small orange. Unlike a typical orange, the bergamot orange is a yellow or green color similar to a lime, depending on ripeness.
The bergamot orange is thought to be a hybrid of lemons and bitter oranges.
An essential oil is made from the peel of the bergamot orange. It’s famously used as a flavor in popular Earl Grey tea.
Citrus bergamot should not be confused with wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa, or “Bee Balm”), which is a plant in the Lamiaceae (mint) family.
Bergamot fruit is primarily used for its essential oils, these are obtained by rasping and cold pressing the peel. Bergamot essential oil is widely used as a perfume, cosmetic, and food because of its incredible fragrance.
In traditional Italian medicine, bergamot fruit has been used to treat a variety of symptoms that include fever, sore throat, mouth and skin infections, and infections of the respiratory system and the urinary tract.
Modern research shows that bergamot orange contains beneficial flavonoids, including:
These flavonoids are thought to be responsible for the health benefits of bergamot.
Health Benefits of Citrus Bergamot:
There are many purported health benefits of citrus bergamot.
A variety of clinical trials shows that citrus bergamot can be very impactful for heart health.
1. May Reduce Cholesterol Levels
Research indicates that citrus bergamot may be one of the most important herbs for cholesterol health.
High cholesterol, known clinically as hyperlipidemia, is tied with a host of heart health issues. Through a vast array of trials and studies, it has been consistently shown that elevated LDL cholesterol levels increase a person’s risk for developing atherosclerotic plaques and subsequent vascular disease.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial evaluated bergamot’s ability( 500mg or 1,000mg per day) to impact total cholesterol markers. A total of 237 human subjects were enrolled in the study over 3 months. Total cholesterol was reduced by 20% (500mg of bergamot) and 30.9% (1,000mg of bergamot). LDL was reduced by 23% (500mg bergamot) and by 38.6% (1,000mg of bergamot). HDL was increased by 25.9% (500mg of bergamot) and by 39% (1,000mg of bergamot).
A placebo-controlled study involving 77 individuals with elevated LDL and triglycerides were administered 1) placebo (n=15) 2) rosuvastatin 10mg (n=16) 3) rosuvastatin 20mg (n=16) 4) bergamot extract(n=15) or 5) bergamot extract with rosuvastatin (n=15).
The participants were given 500mg of bergamot extract over the course of 30 days. Both doses of rosuvastatin and bergamot reduced total cholesterol, LDL, and urinary mevalonate. The results of this study suggest a combination of rosuvastatin and BPF was safe when taken together over the course of 30 days.
An observational study involving 11 participants evaluated a combination of 9 plant extracts that included bergamot fruit extract. The extract was formulated with apple fruit extract, bergamot fruit extract, blueberry fruit concentrate, capsicum fruit, grape seed extract, grape skin extract, green tea leaf extract, mangosteen pericarp extract, olive leaf extract, and turmeric root & rhizome extract.
Patients were directed to take 2 capsules daily (a total of 500mg of bergamot fruit extract and 220mg phytochemical complex blend) for 3 months. A reduction in total cholesterol (7.3%), LDL cholesterol (10%), and apolipoprotein B (2.8%) was observed.
Another clinical trial involving 80 participants looked at the effectiveness of bergamot extract in individuals with moderate hypercholesterolemia (i.e. 160 −190mg/dl). The subjects received 150mg of bergamot flavonoids (standardized to contain 16% neoeriocitrin, 47% neohesperidin, and 37% naringin) daily for 6 months.
The bergamot group showed a decrease in total cholesterol from 255 to 224, LDL cholesterol from 159 to 132, and triglycerides from 159 to 133. An increase in HDL was observed with bergamot from 50 to 54.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluated bergamot extract’s ability to impact hyperlipidemia. Patients were randomized into three groups as follows: 1) placebo (n=20) 2) bergamot polyphenol extract (n=20) and 3) bergamot polyphenol extract phytosomal formulation (n=20).
Over the course of 30 days, the study participants in the bergamot polyphenol extract group received 650mg taken twice daily and subjects in the bergamot polyphenol fraction phytosomal formulation group received 500mg taken twice daily. The bergamot polyphenol fraction decreased total cholesterol from 262 to 196, LDL cholesterol from 175 to 116, and triglycerides from 252 to 170.
Similar results were observed with BPF Phyto: it decreased total cholesterol from 261 to 198, LDL cholesterol from 174 to 113, and triglycerides from 252 to 173. Both formulations were able to show an increase in HDL cholesterol with BPF increasing HDL from 44 to 48 and BPF Phyto from 44 to 50. Decreases in serum glucose were observed with BPF from 120 to 98 and BPF Phyto from 124 to 96. No changes were observed in the placebo group.
Summary:Studies show that citrus bergamot may help decrease cholesterol levels.
2. May Reduce Blood Sugar
Research indicates that citrus bergamot benefits the body by balancing blood sugar.
Elevated blood sugar, known as hyperglycemia, occurs when too much sugar is in the blood. In the long term, persistently high levels of blood sugar, even if not severe, can lead to complications affecting your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart.
A clinical trial examined the effects of citrus bergamot in individuals with elevated blood sugar levels. The study involved 98 individuals who were given 500mg of citrus bergamot extract (alongside a few vitamins). Of the subjects who had elevated blood sugar levels, over 18% saw an improvement in their glycemic profiles.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that bergamot fruit extract significantly reduced fasting plasma glucose levels.
A clinical trial involving 237 individuals found that 500mg of bergamot extract worked to reduce blood glucose levels by 18%.
Another clinical trial looked at the effects of bergamot polyphenol extract in obese individuals. The study participants were given either 650mg or 1300mg of bergamot extract daily. The bergamot polyphenol extract was shown to reduce fasting glucose by 18.1%. Moreover, it was also shown to decrease body weight by 14.8% and body mass index by 15.9% in the 1300mg group. The researchers noted that bergamot extract appears to be effective in reducing weight loss and improving insulin sensitivity.
It’s thought that naringin, a flavonoid found in bergamot orange, is the mechanism of action for bergamot blood sugar lowering properties. Researchers speculate that naringin improves glucose sensitivity and glucose tolerance.
Summary:Clinical research indicates that citrus bergamot polyphenol extract may help to reduce fasting blood sugar levels.
3. Antioxidant Properties
Bergamot fruit is well known for its strong antioxidant profile.
It’s thought that many age-related diseases are due to an increase in oxidative stress. The overproduction of free radicals could impair protein and fatty acid functions and could lead to DNA damage, and various other age-related disorders.
A lab-based study looked at the phytochemical makeup of juice from three different types of bergamot. They found that bergamot juice is rich in flavonoids, including both flavone and flavanone glycosides. Assay results showed the juice contains robust antioxidant activities that correlate with its phenolic and flavonoid content. Additionally, the researchers discovered that bergamot juice also helped to counteract chemical-induced senescence (i.e. cell death).
A cell study found that the flavonoids in bergamot fruit were protective against various chemicals that are known to cause oxidative damage, including hydrogen peroxide and iron sulfate.
Another cell study found that bergamot helped to reduce oxidative stress in human endothelial cells.
Summary:Small-scale lab studies indicate that the flavonoids in citrus bergamot peel have antioxidant properties.
4. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Citrus bergamot fruit also appears to have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
A lab-based study demonstrated that the flavonoid fraction found in bergamot is able to reduce protein levels of pro‐inflammatory cytokines, and thus reduce inflammation.
A cell study found that extracts made with bergamot peel had anti-inflammatory properties in endothelial cells exposed to tumor necrosis factor-alpha, a pro-inflammatory substance.
Another study found that bergamot oil helped to reduce inflammation by 27% or more.
Summary:Lab research indicates that bergamot oil can help to reduce inflammation. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
5. Antimicrobial Properties
A variety of lab-based studies have shown that citrus bergamot benefits the body through its antimicrobial properties.
Infectious diseases are a major problem for public health because they are associated with high morbidity, mortality, and high healthcare cost. Natural herbs with antimicrobial properties are important because of their multifaceted defense mechanisms and low cost.
An in vitro study found that bergamot essential oil is effective against types of bacteria, including Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Bacillus cereus, and Staphylococcus aureus. The researchers noted that bergamot essential oil was more effective against Gram-positive bacteria than Gram-negative bacteria.
Another lab-based study found that bergamot essential oil is effective against various strains of Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria monocytogenes is an intracellular, gram-positive bacteria that is responsible for causing listeriosis, a potentially life-threatening infectious disease.
A lab study found that bergamot essential oil was effective against Helicobacter pylori. It’s noted that H. pylori infection has been associated with chronic gastritis, peptic ulcer, and gastric carcinoma. Over 50% of the world’s population is thought to be colonized by this gram-negative bacterium.
Another study found that bergamot essential oil has antifungal properties. In this study, bergamot was shown to be effective against a variety of clinically relevant Candida species.
Summary:Research indicates that bergamot essential oil is effective against a variety of bacteria and fungi.
Citrus Bergamot Safety:
Safety Class: 1
Interaction Class: A
Consuming bergamot fruit is generally safe for most individuals.
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook (2013), citrus bergamot is in the safest class of herbs (Class 1) and does not have any record of herb-drug interactions (Class A).
Some researchers have noted that bergamot fruit contains the compound bergapten which has been known to cause light sensitivity in some individuals. Commercially produced products (supplements, essential oils, etc..) typically remove this compound, but it’s best to check with the supplier prior to usage.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
No information on the safety of bergamot orange in pregnancy or lactation has been identified.
Although there are no known concerns, safety has not been conclusively proven.
Standard dosing for bergamot fruit is as follows:
Bergamot Extract: 500mg daily
Bergamot Juice: 50mL daily
Bergamot is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list and is generally considered to be sustainable.
It’s estimated that 80-90% of the world’s production of bergamot oil is sourced from the Calabria region in Italy. However, small numbers of bergamot trees grow in other countries, including Greece, Morocco, Iran, Argentina, and Brazil.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Bergamot’s scientific name is Citrus bergamia Risso & Poit. It’s a perennial plant that belongs to the Rutaceae (i.e. citrus) family.
The word “bergamot” comes from the Italian word “bergamotto” named for the Italian town of Bergamo. The subspecies name “Risso” is named after Antoine Risso, a 19th-century French naturalist.
It is also classified as Citrus aurantium subsp. bergamia (i.e. a subspecies of bitter orange).
Common names for this tree and fruit include citrus bergamot and bergamot orange.
It should be noted that citrus bergamot is different from wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa, also known as bee balm).
The bergamot tree almost exclusively grows in the province of Reggio Calabria (in southern Italy) and is an important symbol for the Calabrian province.
It’s thought that the climate in southern Calabria is what makes bergamot oranges thrive there. The slight variation between day and night temperatures, the blend of sun and precipitation, as well as the mineral-rich soils of the region are all essential for growing quality bergamot oranges.
It takes four-to-five years for a bergamot tree to bear fruit. Each tree produces around 100 kilograms of fruit per year. It takes two trees to produce a single kilogram of bergamot essential oil.
History & Traditional Use:
Bergamot fruit has a long history of use in Italy where it was used as both a food and medicine.
Bergamot juice was traditionally recognized by the local population as a remedy for supporting heart health. The juice of the fruit has also been used in Calabrian traditional medicine to treat malaria, and its essential oil is popular in various aromatherapy applications.
In Italian folk medicine, bergamot has been used primarily for fever and parasitic diseases, in addition to mouth, skin, respiratory and urinary tract infections, gonococcal infections, leucorrhoea, vaginal pruritus, tonsillitis, and sore throats.
Bergamot fruit appears to be safe and well-tolerated.
Common usage tells us that this herb is helpful for heart health, especially for cholesterol and blood sugar.
It also appears that this fruit has strong anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
It’s worth looking into bergamot if you are needing support in any of these areas. As always, make sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or adding a new supplement.