Oranges to excess (or, “Orange you done yet?”)

Although the Algarve doesn’t really have a winter (it just goes straight from autumn to spring), we call the oranges that ripen this time of year “winter oranges,” and they are the sweetest of all the varieties. I adore winter oranges.

Oranges and juice

This is the result of a normal morning session with our juicer—a sad lineup of flaccid husks and a proud glass brimming with the good stuff. I can gulp down one of these a day, easily, and wish for more.

So I got to wondering: is there a danger in overusing the juicer? What happens if we drink too much orange juice?

My first thought was that the acidity could damage the stomach lining, but our own stomach acid is pretty brutal, so that’s not really an issue. The lining of the esophagus is more fragile, as is the enamel on our teeth, but it seems more folks damage those while drinking carbonated beverages than orange juice.

There are two main dangers with an orange juice overdose. The first is with excessive Vitamin C. Our bodies can only metabolize so much Vitamin C and will excrete the rest, but sometimes we can’t excrete it fast enough and it builds up. In that event, there are some unpleasant symptoms, ranging from stomachaches and cramps to vomiting, insomnia, and kidney stones.

But wait, there’s more! Orange juice is also very rich in potassium. And while our bodies depend on potassium (it’s a critical element in the operation of our nerve cells), there is such a thing as too much. In reading up on it, I found this interesting case history:

Over a period of a few days the 51-year old subject of this case history developed muscle weakness that progressed to flaccid paralysis in all four limbs requiring urgent hospital referral. Admission laboratory testing revealed severe hyperkalemia, serum potassium 9.0 mmol/L, a level associated with high risk of life threatening cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest. Emergency treatment was successful with return of serum potassium to a normal value of 5.0 mmol/L within a few hours. Neuromuscular function was restored over the same time period. In the absence of renal insufficiency (the most common pathological cause of hyperkalemia) and with exclusion of endocrine causes, this episode of hyperkalemia was finally attributed to excessive ingestion of orange juice…

By now you may be worrying, much as I did: “But I love orange juice! It’s good for me! And now you’re telling me I can paralyze myself with it? And risk a heart attack?”

Let’s read a little further:

…when the patient admitted drinking 2.5 litres of orange juice (potassium concentration 450 mg/l) every day for the preceding three weeks to quench thirst during a spell of hot weather.

Holy juicers, Batman! Two and a half liters per day??

Okay, I think we’re all safe.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in food, Portugal, science. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Oranges to excess (or, “Orange you done yet?”)

  1. Power Wench says:

    Just goes to prove the adage of moderation in all things! If thirsty, first drink water.

    We envy your fresh-squeezed juice! One of the few things I miss about Florida is the juice we consumed from our orange and tangelo trees in the back yard.

  2. Hick Crone says:

    Is there a reason you juice the oranges instead of eating the pulp, too? It IS gorgeous looking juice…

    • oregon expat says:

      Because I love drinking the juice. And our juicer is, shall we say, vigorous enough that a great deal of pulp ends up in the juice as well. To think I used to hate pulpy juice as a kid! Now I don’t think it’s real juice if you don’t have to strain it through your teeth.

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