passion fruit image

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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