Monk Fruit: Sugar Substitute With Health Benefits

The Monk Fruit grows natively in China, where it is called Luo Han Guo. It is rich in powerful natural antioxidant compounds known as mogrosides which provide many health benefits. Research suggests that these powerful compounds may provide useful treatments against cancer, diabetes, and Epstein Barr. Monk fruit extract is used as a natural sugar substitute which is known to have zero impact on overall blood glucose levels, zero caloric impact, and is as much as 500% sweeter than common sugars.

Historical Uses

Monk fruit belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family, which is known to encompass many species demonstrating significant health benefits1 Monk Fruit may also be commonly referred to as Siraitia grosvenoriiMomordica grosvenorii, or Thladiantha grosvenorii. This fruit’s name originates in China where it was first recorded as being cultivated by monks. It was used throughout Traditional Chinese Medicine practices as a natural treatment against many illnesses, but primarily against inflammation-related disease. In 1975, a patent was awarded to Proter and Gamble for the process of making commercial sweetener from monk fruit2. Today, it is used in many food products as a sugar substitute, and commonly seen in conjunction with other compounds such as Stevia and Erythritol.

Active Alkaloids

The health benefits of monk fruit are largely attributable to a class of compounds named mogrosides. These compounds are all members of a larger class of compounds name triterpen glycosides, and are broken down into numerical classifications (Mogroside I-V) to better differentiate them within research. The mogroside V compound (11-oxo-Mogroside) is regarded as the most prevelant of the mogroside compounds found within monk fruit. This compound has been studied more than the other compounds, is regarded as the most anti-inflammatory, and is present in large percentages within consumer monk fruit products3.

Potential Health Benefits

As mentioned before the mogroside compounds are most-readily identified as the responsible agents for facilitating the cellular actions noted in research. Cancer studies investigating the antitumor activity of mogroside V typically investigate it’s ability to inhibit Epstein Barr Early Antigen proliferation throughout cancerous tumor cells. In addition to cancer, monk fruits mogroside compounds demonstrate a remarkable anti-inflammatory action which is applicable across a wide variety of potential health benefits. Research is largely focused on animal and in vitro studies, though monk fruit does seem to show promising results in treating several health conditions. Any compound that can serve as a viable sugar substitute also presents a notable benefit to average health by inference, considering the role sugar plays in many major diseases. This automatically qualifies monk fruit sweetener as being beneficial for people with diabetes type II, though it offers specific action targeting the pancreas that shows promise as well.

Reduces Inflammation & Destroys Free Radicals

Cucurbitane triterpenoid aglycon is a specific compound found withing monk fruit that has demonstrated some remarkable results. Researchers found this compound to be effective in the reduction of inflammatory damages caused by oxidative stress.4 Researchers have also demonstrated that monk fruit contains compounds capable of reducing inflammatory and oxidative damage in pancreatic cells, in turn stimulating the release of more glucose5 The specific action of how monk fruit extract works to produce this benefit is unknown. Lessened glycemic impact and increased glucose production qualify monk fruit with potential treatment for those with diabetes, though more research is needed to understand the specifics of this action.

Natural Cancer Treatment

Research suggests the Mogroside V compound may play an integral role as a future anti-tumor treatment for cancer patients. One study found the proliferation of cancer cells to be reduced by as much as 20% when exposed to a Mogroside V treatment.6 This data investigated the specific action that monk fruit takes on tumor cells containing Epstein Barr early antigens (EBV-EA), which also suggests it as therapy for chronic active Epstein Barr sufferers.  Cucurbitacin E is a type of compound that many fruits and plants produce as a means of natural predator defense. Cucurbitacin E has demonstrated anti-tumor activity as well, though more data is needed to suggest how it might fare in human trials.7

Treats Diabetes

The same study which noted the pancreatic-specific action of monk fruit8 notes this action is seen in high-fat and high-sugar environments. This indicates that monk fruit shows promise as an independent natural treatment for diabetes, requiring no dietary change to offer results. Monk fruited sweeteners used to reduce or eliminate regular refined sugars offers the ability to even further reduce diabetic symptoms by lowering overall sugar intake. This means using Monk Fruit sweetener as a diabetic is likely a win-win situation.

Commercial Monk Fruit Sweeteners

Monk fruit isn’t available as a fresh fruit because it has an extremely-short shelf life. During the period of time it would take for monk fruit to be shipped from mainland China to the US—the monk fruit would spoil. In 2010 the FDA posted a no comment bulletin regarding the status of Monk Fruit sweetener in food products. The application for Generally Regarded As SAFE (GRAS) status was filed by a Monk Fruit merchant. While the FDA didn’t itself declare monk fruit to be GRAS, they publicly and intentionally stated they had no argument against the monk fruit company’s GRAS determination. This means monk fruit is available as a sugar supplement, a dietary supplement, and a food additive for all products other than meats.

As a means of reducing overall cost, many monk fruit manufacturers sell products that are blends of several types of sugar substitutes. The most-common two additives are stevia extract and erythritol, though other filling agents such as inulin are common as well. Ingredients that include ‘Proprietary Blends’ of monk fruit sweetener are susceptible to low-quality. These blends don’t have to disclose the amounts of each individual ingredient and may include only a small amount of the primary advertised ingredient. Ingredients still have to be listed in order of prevalence, so proprietary blends listing monk fruit first are likely ok. Pay special attention to products listing filling agents like inulin, pre-biotic fiber, or other filler agents first—these could contain little active ingredients.

Final Considerations

Monk Fruit is a remarkable natural fruit capable of providing powerful sugar substitutes much sweeter than common sugar, while having zero glycemic impact. The mogroside compounds found in monk fruit have demonstrated significant anticancer and diabetes treatment potential. More research is needed in this area to confirm, though initial animal and in vitro studies show promise. If you are diabetic, have cancer, suffer from chronic active Epstein Barr, or are seeking to reduce oxidation damage from conditions such as arthritis—the monk fruit should be of particular interest to you. For know, it’s only approved as a dietary ingredient serving as a natural sugar substitute. Hopefully with support for further research the future will be more illuminating towards the potential of monk fruit’s many health benefits.