Natural Cure for Asthma? Passion fruit extract…
By Bob Condor
You never know what might happen over lunch. Consider the scientific collaboration between Ronald Ross Watson, a professor and researcher at the University of Arizona, and Lai Yeap Foo, a chemist who works for a natural supplements company based in New Zealand. Watson and Foo met while sitting next to each by chance at a professional conference in France.
That was 1999. Nine years later, Watson has published a study in the peer-reviewed Nutrition Journal showing that one of Foo’s lab projects, passion fruit peel extract, shows promise for reducing the wheezing and coughing of asthma. Watson designed double-blind, randomized trials while his newfound acquaintance supplied standardized doses of the passion fruit peel extract.
The extract is in development and under license with a nutraceutical company here in the U.S. So the Watson study is likely to help push the product to market. While considered a small study of 43 people, the results were significant and dramatic: After four weeks of daily doses of 150 milligrams of the extract, the volunteers experienced 76 percent less coughing and 81 percent less wheezing. Watson speculates that the anti-inflammatory properties of the passion fruit peel helps clear the airways.
And we thought passion fruit was just some exotic island fruit or the occasional sorbet flavor in an upscale restaurant.
Traditionally, the inner meat of the passion fruit has been be consumed or used medicinally. But Foo and others have discovered the fruit’s peels are rich in plant chemicals or phytochemicals. Passion fruit extracts have long been used in South America to treat insomnia, anxiety, bronchitis and, yes, asthma. It’s possible that the peel is a sort of “X” factor in raising the profile of passion fruit beyond its tropical pleasure reputation.
One note about the asthma study: Some critics have questioned how active disease level was measured in the body, yet the paper was clearly accepted by a professional journal. Watson himself allowed that additional self-reporting on asthma symptoms by the study subjects is always a bit inconsistent among individuals. It’s one reason why Watson and Foo plan follow-up studies.
In any case, what adds ballast to the Watson study, despite its small size, is that other new research (including a parallel companion study conducted by Watson during the as
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thma clinical trial) connects the passion fruit extract to lowering high blood pressure in experiments.
It’s hard to wave off a natural extract that figures to be reasonably priced, likely doesn’t pose any overdose risk yet addresses two of the country’s most challenging health conditions. About five percent of Americans—including a rising number of children—have asthma. Roughly one in four U.S. adults suffer from high blood pressure or hypertension.
Watson, for one, is not about to fret much over criticism. He reasons that “in the United States there are a lot of dietary supplements and natural products that are sold without much, or any, evidence of efficacy.”
One pointer that you will hear from scientists and other herbal researchers is always investigate whether the supplement has been used in clinical trials. We often hear about the promising potential of an herbal remedy, but unknowingly buy an inferior product at the store. Companies who products have been used in studies and determined effective are happy to make that information known.
You might also be well served by checking out Consumer Lab’s website. Consumer Lab, started by a physician whose heart has long been in the right place, tests supplement products by category every month. Consumer Lab tests for accurate dosage of the active ingredient rather than getting into positive or negative effect. In its years of testing, Consumer Lab has discovered some disturbing categories in which claimed dosage is either low or non-existent.
Nonetheless, the supplement product-scape is more informed than, say, a decade ago. It is up to us to make sure we ask the right questions and feel solid about the answers we get before spending money—and the more important currency of hope—on any supplement or treatment, whether herbal, prescription or in between on the healing spectrum.
"Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing . He is also the Living Well columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer . He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including "The Good Mood Diet" and "Your Prostate Cancer Survivors' Guide." He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.