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New Hybrid Grapefruit Avoids Drug Interactions

“Grapefruit juice effect” inhibits breakdown of more than 85 drugs (Mar. 11)

According to a report from Reuters, tests on a new hybrid grapefruit developed at the University of Florida have found low levels of the organic chemical compounds implicated in the so-called “grapefruit juice effect.” More than 85 drugs are known to interact with standard grapefruit, 43 with serious side effects.

Scientists have been aware of the “grapefruit juice effect” since 1989. Compounds in the fruit, called furanocoumarins, inhibit the action of an enzyme that breaks down certain medications in the human digestive system. This phenomenon poses a health risk because it can produce unexpectedly high levels of the medications in a patient’s bloodstream. Physicians, pharmacists, and prescription drug labels warn patients to avoid grapefruit and related products under these circumstances.

Fred Gmitter, a faculty member at the university’s Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida, is part of a team working to address the problem by developing a hybrid between grapefruit and selected varieties of pummelo that have been shown to have low furanocoumarin content and that can transmit the trait to their offspring.

Gmitter and his colleagues investigated the effects of furanocoumarin compounds, testing each one to determine the amount required to slow the enzyme reaction by 50%. The results showed that a handful of furanocoumarins had the strongest effect.

More important, juice samples from 40 different hybrids and their parents were tested directly for their overall effect on enzyme activity, and one of the selected hybrids — known as UF 914 — was among the samples with the lowest effect.

According to the Reuters report, the University of Florida is now in the process of commercializing the hybrid, with large-scale production likely 5 to 7 years from now.

Sources: Reuters; March 11, 2013; and University of Florida; December 19, 2012.

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