Have you ever had Earl Grey tea? Do you enjoy the hint of its citrusy flavor? Well, then you’ve got a taste of the bergamot fruit already! Bergamot fruit is the aromatic pear-shaped citrus cousin of oranges, that looks more like lime. Besides tea, it also finds wide use in foods, perfumes, cosmetics, and more. It is only recently that scientific research has discovered important components in bergamot fruit derivatives with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In this article, we explore the origin and health benefits of bergamot, along with some of its popular uses and potential side effects.
In This Article
What Is Citrus Bergamot?
Bergamot is a Mediterranean citrus fruit primarily grown and found in Calabria, South Italy. The fruit of the citrus bergamia plant, bergamot fruit, is a type of orange. Almost the same size as oranges, bergamots closely resemble lime in appearance. They are pear-shaped, green in color when raw, and yellow when ripe. They have a very distinct citrusy fragrance and are too bitter to be eaten raw. They are usually enjoyed in tea preparations, preserves, or marmalades.
While bergamot is known as a hybrid of orange, researchers vary in their opinions about its origin. While some state bergamot as a hybrid between bitter orange and citron, others believe it comes from a combination of bitter orange and sweet lime, or bitter orange and lemon (1), (2).
Italians use bergamot oil, juice, and fruit extract to treat various health concerns related to digestion, skin, muscle pain, and fevers. With recent research, these health benefits and effects are attributed to the presence of important active compounds in bergamot fruit and its derivatives. Let’s understand this in detail further ahead.
Uses And Effectiveness
Cold-pressed bergamot essential oil (BEO) is extracted from the bergamot fruit peel and the left-over fruit is used to squeeze out the bergamot juice. The remaining fruit scraps are then used for animal feed.
- Bergamot essential oil is widely used in the cosmetic industries as a key ingredient in perfumes, body lotions, and soaps.
- It is also used in the food industry as a flavoring agent for various teas and pastries.
- Its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties make it useful in the pharmaceutical industry as well.
Studies suggest that bergamot oil is rich in active plant compounds called furocoumarins, particularly bergamottin. The whole fruit and juice, on the other hand, are high in flavonoids like naringin and hesperetin (3). In all these various forms, bergamot seems to have certain significant effects on your overall well-being.
- Mood-relaxing Effect
Bergamot essential oil has been widely used in aromatherapy, especially due to its mood-balancing effects. Several studies suggest the potential ability of bergamot oil to reduce stress and help you feel calm and relaxed (4), (5).
- Pain-relieving Effects
Studies also suggest that bergamot fruit may potentially help with pain relief by affecting the nerves’ sensitivity to pain (6). It could also be used as a complementary addition to other pain-relieving medicines.
- Antibacterial Effects
Studies have found that components in bergamot essential oil might have antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It is particularly effective against Escherichia coli O157, Campylobacter jejuni, Bacillus cereus, Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus, and dermatophytes (7).
Few other studies have substantiated the potentially effective role of bergamot oil against bacterial and fungal infections (8), (9), (10). When the vapors of lemon, orange, and bergamot were tested for their antimicrobial activities against common food pathogens, bergamot essential oil, and its component linalool were found to be the most effective (11).
Furthermore, bergamot is widely studied for its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and other health benefits as detailed below.
Health Benefits Of Bergamot
Recent research shows that different components in bergamot essential oil, juice, and rind extracts showcase different beneficial effects on your overall well-being. Some of the health benefits of bergamot include:
- Rich In Health-boosting Antioxidants
Bergamot is rich in flavonoids and polyphenols, which are compounds known for their antioxidative properties (3), (12), (13), (14). They help get rid of the toxic free radicals in your body by absorbing and neutralizing them (15). A mix of flavonoids from bergamot and orange juices has shown potential in preventing oxidative cell injury and lung cell damage (16).
- May Have Anti-inflammatory Properties
Animal studies have implicated the promising role of the bergamot fruit, its juice, and oil in supporting the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response (3), (17). Bergamot extracts have also shown potential in reducing lung inflammation, vital in the treatment of Cystic fibrosis (18). Chronic inflammation often leads to the development of long-term diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and also psoriasis.
- May Reduce Risk Of Metabolic Syndrome
Studies suggest that bergamot orange has the potential to help alleviate the harmful side effects of metabolic syndrome by lowering triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and blood sugar levels (19), (20). A study on patients with confirmed non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and metabolic syndrome, when given bergamot polyphenolic extracts twice a day, reported a visible reduction of hepatic fat (14). Research also suggests that food supplements with a full spectrum of bergamot juice components might be effective in reducing weight and risks of atherosclerosis (21).
- May Boost Heart Health
Bergamot tea may help improve your heart health by keeping your cholesterol levels in check (22). The polyphenols found in bergamot, especially the flavanones, may potentially inhibit the enzymes that produce cholesterol in your body (23),(24). High serum cholesterol levels often translate to a greater risk of cardiac health issues. The higher the LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, the more chances of plaque buildup in the arteries, leading to stroke and atherosclerosis.
A study on people with high cholesterol levels who took bergamot extract every day for 6 months, reported a significant decrease in the levels of triglycerides, total, and LDL (bad) cholesterol (25). Further research suggests the promising role of bergamot in enhancing the effects of traditional cholesterol-lowering medications and the development of new nutraceuticals (26), (27).
- May Aid Digestion
Bergamot tea with its flavonoids content seems to help fight digestive tract-related inflammation concerns as well. A study on mice reported the positive effect of bergamot juice in inhibiting the release of inflammatory proteins and reducing diarrhea frequency (19). Few other animal studies have also indicated that bergamot juice might reduce intestinal inflammation and restrict H. pylori bacteria associated with stomach ulcers and pain (28), (29). While these animal studies are promising, further studies are warranted to establish the same for humans.
Having explored the range of health benefits of bergamot fruit let’s have a look at its potential side effects as well.
Health Risks Of Bergamot
The USFDA considers bergamot essential oil “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) as a food additive (30). While eating, drinking, or smelling bergamot or its derivatives is considered safe, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
- Overconsumption Might Lead To Cramps
Though most of your tea intake might be limited to 1-2 cups every day, that too of the particular Earl Grey variety, there was one notable case of a man reporting muscle cramps and twitches after consumption of about 4 liters of Earl Grey tea per day (31). While this much intake of tea is highly unlikely, you must be mindful of this potential side effect and avoid excess intake.
- Skin Application Might Cause Rashes
Bergamot oil application on your skin might lead to skin tanning or further adverse effects on exposure to sun or tanning beds. It was about a century ago that physicians first noticed bergamot oil used in perfumes could cause skin rashes (32). It was a photosensitive reaction on exposure of the oil applied skin to sun or UV light. Today, the amount of bergamot allowed by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) in leave-on skin products is restricted to 0.4% (33). It is therefore important to always dilute the bergamot essential oil with other carrier oils before applying it to your skin.
- Might Interact With Medicines
The furocoumarin bergamottin, found in bergamot essential oil could be potentially harmful when taken with certain medications (3). If you are on prescription medications, consult your doctor about adding bergamot to your diet. You should also report any uneasiness or adverse symptoms on intake of Earl Grey tea.
Once you are mindful of the above, you can enjoy the benefits of bergamot in the following recipes.
- Raspberry Almond Smoothie With Bergamot
- Raspberries (frozen) – ¾ cup
- Almond milk (unsweetened) – 1 ½ cups
- Real bergamot extract – 5 drops
- Citrus bergamot capsule contents – 2
- Flaxseed (ground) – 2 tablespoons
- Fresh lemon juice – to taste
- Almonds – ¼ cup
- Coconut oil – 2 tablespoons
- Combine all the above ingredients in a high-speed blender.
- Blend until you get a smooth creamy texture.
- Serve in a tall glass or mason jar and enjoy.
- Bergamot Tea
Tea made of bergamot leaves and extracts is commonly known and sold as Earl Grey tea. You can either get the loose tea leaves or ready-to-use tea bags.
- Bergamot tea leaves – 1 tablespoon
- Water – 1 cup
- Bring the water to boil in a saucepan.
- Add in the loose tea leaves.
- Let them steep for about 5 minutes.
- Strain and serve.
Bergamot fruit is a Mediterranean citrus fruit frequently featured in traditional medicines. This tart, aromatic fruit adds nutritious and delicious notes to your teas, marmalades, and smoothies, to name a few. Bergamot fruit benefits come from the health-promoting nutrients it contains, including antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It may help promote heart and digestive health. The bergamot fruit may help reduce the harmful free radicals present in your body and reduce inflammation. However, excessive consumption may lead to cramps or rashes. Hence, limit its consumption and seek medical advice if you experience any side effects.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who should not take bergamot?
People having diabetes or gastrointestinal problems should limit their consumption of bergamot. Also, stop bergamot intake at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Is bergamot a lemon or an orange?
Bergamot is a type of orange. It has a unique sweet aroma and is used for various purposes.
- Bergamot fruits are pear-shaped citrus fruits with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- The essential oil extracted from their peel has mood-relaxing and cosmetic applications.
- It may reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, boost heart health, and aid digestion.
- However, overconsumption of bergamot oil may lead to cramps and rashes.
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- The Fascinating History of Bergamot (Citrus Bergamia Risso & Poiteau) the Exclusive Essence of Calabria: A Review
- Phylogenetic origin of limes and lemons revealed by cytoplasmic and nuclear markers
- Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Citrus bergamia Derivatives: Where Do We Stand?
- Effects of bergamot ( Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn.) essential oil aromatherapy on mood states parasympathetic nervous system activity and salivary cortisol levels in 41 healthy females
- Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) Essential Oil Inhalation Improves Positive Feelings in the Waiting Room of a Mental Health Treatment Center: A Pilot Study
- Neuropharmacology of the essential oil of bergamot
- Bergamot (Citrus bergamia Risso et Poiteau) essential oil: Biological properties cosmetic and medical use. A review 
- Citrus bergamia essential oil: from basic research to clinical application
- The mechanism of action of a citrus oil blend against Enterococcus faecium and Enterococcus faecalis
- In vitro activity of Citrus bergamia (bergamot) oil against clinical isolates of dermatophytes
- In vitro activity of bergamot natural essence and furocoumarin-free and distilled extracts and their associations with boric acid against clinical yeast isolates
- The effect of lemon orange and bergamot essential oils and their components on the survival of Campylobacter jejuni Escherichia coli O157 Listeria monocytogenes Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus in vitro and in food systems
- Antioxidant and Antisenescence Effects of Bergamot Juice
- Citrus bergamia risso & poiteau juice protects against renal injury of diet‐induced hypercholesterolemia in rats
- The Hepatic Effects of Citrus Bergamot Polyphenol Fraction (BPF) on Patients with Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Metabolic Syndrome
- Citrus fruits as a treasure trove of active natural metabolites that potentially provide benefits for human health
- Flavonoid Fraction of Orange and Bergamot Juices Protect Human Lung Epithelial Cells from Hydrogen Peroxide-Induced Oxidative Stress
- The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of bergamot juice extract (BJe) in an experimental model of inflammatory bowel disease
- Bergamot (Citrus bergamia Risso) fruit extracts and identified components alter expression of interleukin 8 gene in cystic fibrosis bronchial epithelial cell lines
- Hypolipemic and hypoglycaemic activity of bergamot polyphenols: from animal models to human studies
- Molecular mechanisms of lipid- and glucose-lowering activities of bergamot flavonoids
- Atherogenic Index Reduction and Weight Loss in Metabolic Syndrome Patients Treated with A Novel Pectin-Enriched Formulation of Bergamot Polyphenols
- Bergamot (Citrus bergamia Risso) Flavonoids and Their Potential Benefits in Human Hyperlipidemia and Atherosclerosis: an Overview
- Molecular mechanisms of lipid- and glucose-lowering activities of bergamot flavonoids
- Bergamot Reduces Plasma Lipids Atherogenic Small Dense LDL and Subclinical Atherosclerosis in Subjects with Moderate Hypercholesterolemia: A 6 Months Prospective Study
- Bergamot polyphenolic fraction enhances rosuvastatin-induced effect on LDL-cholesterol LOX-1 expression and protein kinase B phosphorylation in patients with hyperlipidemia
- The effect of bergamot on dyslipidemia
- In vitro effect of bergamot (Citrus bergamia) juice against cagA-positive and-negative clinical isolates of Helicobacter pylori
- Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Effects of Flavonoid-Rich Fraction of Bergamot Juice (BJe) in a Mouse Model of Intestinal Ischemia/Reperfusion Injury
- CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21
- Earl Grey tea intoxication
- Assessment report on Citrus bergamia Risso et Poiteau aetheroleum