African Mango trees (Irvingia gabonensis) grow wild in the rainforests of Angola, Nigeria, Uganda, and Congo. The tree is long-lived and grows to a height of 100 to 130 feet. Local peoples have traditionally harvested wild trees for their durable hardwood, but especially prize the large delicious fruits that fall to the forest floor when ripe.
The trees are now starting to be cultivated in several African countries. African Mango fruit vaguely resembles the common grocery store mango (Mangifera indica) in size and color, but is not botanically related. African Mango fruit can be eaten fresh or made into jellies and jams. The fruit is high in Vitamin C. A 100 calorie serving contains 65 mg of this vitamin, more than the daily recommended allowance (Stadlmayr et al., 2013).
Unlike the standard mango, the nut found inside each African Mango fruit is also edible. These nuts also called dika or ogbongo — are eaten raw and roasted. The nuts also have a high oil content and are pressed to extract the oil for cooking. African Mango oil is solid at room temperature (like coconut oil) and resistant to oxidation so it doesn’t become rancid. Interest in African Mango has recently increased after reports that it helped reduced blood sugar levels in diabetic rats and produced weight loss in obese people (Omoruyi & Adamson, 1994; Ngondi et al., 2005).
Supplements containing extracts of Irvingia gabonensis are now marketed as miracle weight-loss formulas. However, other scientists argue that the weight-loss claim is based on skimpy evidence. In a careful review of published studies, Okakpoya and colleagues (2013) found only a handful (three) that compared African Mango to a placebo. All three were from the same laboratory. Each study showed weight loss in the African Mango users, but Okapoya found deficiencies in how the methods of the studies were reported, including how well the experimental and placebo groups were matched, and whether exercise levels were monitored.
These reviewers also noted that at least one of the weight-loss studies was funded by an industry group involved in the marketing of African Mango extracts. The conclusion of this review was that “Future trials of this supplement should be more rigorous and better reported”. So what do we know about the health benefits of African Mango? Like many plants, not enough. Generations of people in Africa attest that the fruit is delicious, and we know it contains plentiful amounts of Vitamin C and fiber; all good reasons to eat it. The possibility that some of the phytochemicals found in African Mango might help control diabetes clearly deserves more attention in laboratory studies.
To date, the diabetes studies appear promising, but have only been done in rats (rodent research doesn’t always transfer to humans). The claim that extracts of the African Mango nut promotes weight loss is similarly intriguing, but isn’t yet based on firm data.
Omoruyi, F., & Adamson, I. (1994). Effect of supplements of dikanut (Irvingia-Gabonensis) and cellulose on plasma-lipids and composition of hepatic phospholipids in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rat. Nutrition Research, 14, 537-544.
Onakpoya, I., Davies, L., Posadzki, P., Ernst, E. (2013). The efficacy of Irvingia Gabonensis supplementation in the management of overweight and obesity: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Dietary Supplements,10, 29:38. doi:10.3109/19390211.2012.760508
Ngondi, J.L., Oben, J.E., & Minka, S.R. (2005). The effect of Irvingia gabonensis seeds on body weight and blood lipids of obese subjects in Cameroon. Lipids in Health and Disease, 4, 12. Stadlmayr, B., Charrondiere, U.R., Eisenwagen, S., Jamnadass, R., & Kehlenbeck, K. (2013). Nutrient composition of selected indigenous fruits from sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 93, 26272636. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.6196