By: Idayat Kusimo
What is Passion Fruit Extract?
Passion fruit is an exotic tropical fruit that grows on the vine of several members of the Passiflora genus that is native to Paraguay, Brazil and Northern Argentina. It got its name from priests in the 1800s who thought part of the flower symbolized the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Passion fruit is also referred to as maracuja in Portuguese, liliko in Hawaiian and maracuya in Spanish (x). Currently, it is being cultivated in geographical areas over the world where the climate is warm and frost-free, including Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Southern Asia, South America, the Caribbean and Africa.
Passion fruit has a small outer rind that looks small and egg-shaped. On the inside, it is filled with numerous crunchy seeds in juicy yellow pulp. It has a tart, almost sour flavor and a distinct smell often recreated in bath products and candles. The riper the fruit is, the less tart and less sweet it becomes (x). The edible part of the passion fruit is only the pulp and seeds. Just a few spoonfuls of its juicy, pulpy interior contains a lot of health benefits. In fact, its seed, which is surrounded by a casing of sweet flesh, contains piceatannol, a powerful antioxidant (x).
There are several reports of the passion fruit being used in traditional medicine to treat a number of health conditions. For example, in Kenya, among the Kalenjin people, it is believed to improve digestion, appetite and blood levels in pregnant women. Also, South America reports its use as a traditional tonic for easing UTI, asthma, insomnia and bronchitis (x).
There are many varieties of passion fruit around the world depending on color and size. However, there are two distinct forms of these species (x). The two main variants are:
Purple Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis)
The purple-colored variant is more aromatic, less acidic and thus sweeter to taste. It is usually found in India and Africa, and it yields about 35 percent more juice than the yellow-colored variant.
Yellow Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis var. flavicarpa)
This is the yellow-colored variant that is usually found in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Guyana. It is larger compared to the purple-colored variant and has a thicker wall. It also has a much higher citric acid content and a glossy-textured rind.
Health Benefits of Passion Fruit
Rich in Antioxidants
Passion fruit is loaded in antioxidants, which are compounds that protect your body from free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage the DNA within cells when present in a large number (x). The resulting damage can ultimately lead to many chronic and degenerative diseases such as dementia, arthritis, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Passion fruit being rich in antioxidants plays a vital role in keeping the body systems healthy. A trio of standout antioxidants — vitamin C, beta-carotene and polyphenols — provides even better health benefits.
Vitamin C is a vital antioxidant that supports the immune system, improves epithelial health and stimulates collagen synthesis (x). Beta carotene is another vital antioxidant you need to get from your diet that is converted into vitamin A for preserving good eyesight. Not only that, increased consumption of beta-carotene rich diet has been associated with a lower risk of prostate, colon, stomach and breast cancer. Polyphenols are plant compounds that possess strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This means they can help cut down on the risk of chronic inflammation and conditions such as heart diseases. Examples include flavonoids, piceatannols and scirpusin B.
Also, piceatannol, a type of polyphenol in passion fruit seed, has been linked to improved insulin sensitivity in men with excess weight, hence potentially cutting down on the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The high antioxidant content in passion fruit may have a significant anti-inflammatory effect. In a small study that spanned over four weeks, the participants who were asthmatic experienced reduced coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath after doses of purple passion fruit peel supplement (x).
Another study investigated the effects of purple passion fruit peel extract on people with knee osteoarthritis. The group who took the extract experienced less stiffness and pain in their joint compared to those that didn’t (x). However, more research is still needed in that area to determine the extent to which passion fruit supplementation affects inflammation in those with osteoarthritis.
In another study, piceatannol had a significant reduction in the inflammatory cytokines released by white blood cells in fat tissues. When the white blood cells contained in fat tissues causes low-grade chronic inflammation, it can result in chronic diseases (x).
Helps Boost the Immune System
The University of Florida’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition carried out a study that showed that some of the antioxidant content of passion fruit can help enhance the body’s immunity (x). Traditional medicine has cultivated and enjoyed passion fruit for its immune-boosting effects. However, it was modern medicine that was able to unravel the cause of its immune strengthening property. This was attributed to the presence of vitamin C, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, iron and potassium. These antioxidant works to prevent cell damage, neutralize free radicals and step up the body’s immunity.
A single serving of passion fruit contains 1/8 percent of our daily vitamin C requirement. Vitamin C is a potent water-soluble antioxidant that enhances the activity of white blood cells and the body’s immune defense system to prevent common ailments and serious diseases.
Also, a daily single serving of passion fruit offers us our daily requirement of potassium, an important mineral that metabolizes protein, produces red blood cell and hemoglobin and boosts immunity. Hemoglobin plays the vital role of transporting oxygen from the lungs throughout the brain and body and moving carbon dioxide back to the lungs.
Also, a deficiency in iron can result in anemia and general fatigue. You can get 20% of your daily iron requirement from a single (100g) serving of passion fruit.
Passion fruit is believed to be a powerful source for enhancing anti-carcinogenic activities in the body. This is because it is replete with antioxidants that eliminate cancer-causing free radicals that can mutate the DNA of healthy cells into cancerous ones. These antioxidants also perform cell repairing activities and they support the healthy growth of cells.
The Journal of Food Research International (x) shows that in addition to these, it also contains phytochemicals (i.e polyphenols and carotenoids), flavonoids, phenolic compounds and vitamin A that helps prevent some cancer — especially oral and lung cancer. Chrysin, an important compound in passion fruit was found to have anti-cancer effects (x). Its rich amount of vitamin C and A helps neutralize the free radicals and protect the body from cancer and cell damage (x). The flavonoids contained in passion fruit enhance the chrysin strength in providing antioxidant for the body, and thus protects against cancer.
Maintains a Healthy Blood Pressure
A high blood pressure will put excessive strain on the arteries and blood vessels, and potentially lead to heart attack and strokes. Passion fruit is well known for its high potassium content and a low sodium profile, making it highly effective in protecting against high blood pressure (x).
One serving of passion fruit contains 821 milligrams of potassium, which can satisfy a quarter of potassium needs instantly. Potassium is an essential body mineral that performs many functions, one of which is to act as a vasodilator that relaxes the veins and the blood vessels and promotes increased blood flow without strain and tension (x). This, in turn, helps maintain proper pressure in the heart and maintain overall cardiovascular health.
More importantly, potassium helps maintain a proper fluid balance of the body. Movement between the body’s membrane is allowed through potassium-regulated channels, so getting an adequate supply of the mineral is crucial (x).
Some studies have pointed out that the piceatannol content in passion fruit can also help reduce excessive blood pressure levels (x). Another study points out that passion fruit peel extract can serve as a remedy for hypertension (x).
Reduces Anxiety and Cures Insomnia
Anxiety is a mild or severe feeling of unease and it is characterized by difficulty falling asleep. The presence of alkaloids in passion fruits helps ease restlessness due to its calming or soothing effect (x). Passion fruit also contains some compounds that help battle insomnia and helps maintain focus. These include several phytonutrients and medicinal alkaloids that act as powerful sedatives for reducing restlessness and sleeplessness (x).
Improves Heart Health
Passion fruit is loaded with heart-healthy components like potassium, vitamin C and B6, piceatannol and scirpusin B. The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry in a 2011 research showed that piceatannol and Scirpusin B contained in passion fruit had vasorelaxant effects on the blood vessel walls. This vasorelaxation offered cardiovascular health benefits (x).
Passion fruit being a good source of potassium helps protect the heart from irregular heartbeats and ensures its proper functioning. The high antioxidant content prevents plaque formation and artery blockage as a result of substance accumulation in the blood vessel.
Passion fruit is a low-fat, fiber-rich fruit with a very low cholesterol content. As we may already know, cholesterol is the foremost enemy of the heart. It blocks the arteries and blood flow, hence increasing strain on the heart. When passion fruit is eaten with the seeds, you get in a lot of fiber that helps get rid of excess cholesterol in the blood vessels. The dietary fiber in passion fruit increases the good cholesterol (HDL) and reduces the bad cholesterol (LDL) to safeguard the heart.
Beta carotene which gives passion fruit its yellow and purple color is also a rich source of vitamin A. As an antioxidant, it helps prevent high blood pressure and cardiac disease (x). An animal study has also shown that piceatannol, an active compound in passion fruit helps stabilize the heartbeat, relax blood vessels and keep the heart muscle healthy (x, x).
Treats Respiratory Disorder
The extract from purple passion fruit is known to contain a novel mixture of bioflavonoids. According to the Journal Nutritional Review, this mixture possesses a soothing and sedative effect on many respiratory conditions (x). They act as an expectorant for easing asthma, wheezing and whooping cough (x).
Improves Bone Health
Passion fruit being a rich source of minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus helps maintain bone density and prevent osteoporosis. These can help treat inflammation and pain caused by bone and joint problems. These minerals don’t just maintain healthy bone cells, but also speed up bone cell repairs to combat bone fragility.
Research has shown that purple passion fruit peel extract contains anti-inflammatory properties and help relieve joint pain in people with osteoarthritis (x).
Potential Side Effects of Passion Fruit
Passion fruit is considered perfectly safe to eat for most people, but it can also cause some side effects. Some people with a latex allergy are sensitive to the plant-based protein in passion fruit that has a similar structure to latex protein.
Cyanogenic glycoside, a potentially dangerous compound that releases hydrogen cyanide can be found in passion fruit. Fortunately, this amount is not so much as to be worried about. Foods that contain more cyanogenic glycosides include uncooked cassava and bitter almonds (x, x).
It is recommended to stop consuming passion fruit during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Also since passion fruit stimulates the central nervous system, it should be avoided if undergoing surgery as it might interfere with anesthesia during surgery.
The Bottom Line
Passion fruit is a tropical fruit that has been used for years for its numerous health benefits. It is loaded with antioxidants that help improve bone health, heart health and boost the immune system. It also helps treat respiratory disorders, maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce the risks of cancer. Passion fruit should be avoided before surgery, during pregnancy and breastfeeding.