Breadfruit And Its Impact On Immune System Support

  • Irenosen AddehMaster of Science (MSc), Public Health, University of Debrecen, Hungary

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What is breadfruit?

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a fascinating tropical fruit packed with nutrients that can enhance your immune system.1 It is considered a superfood, rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. It originated from New Guinea and has been an essential crop for over 3000 years.2 During exploration and discovery in the Pacific, it became trendy among islanders.2 This exotic fruit has a high density and starch content similar to bread or other root crops such as sweet potatoes.2 

This article will understand the following;

  • The function of the immune system
  • The immune response
  • Nutritional content of breadfruit
  • Associated health benefits
  • Research findings
  • Ways to consume breadfruit
  • Recommended daily intake
  • Allergies & sensitivities 

During the winter, when virus transmission increases as we spend more time indoors, it is vital to ensure a well-balanced diet. Consuming the superfood breadfruit is a simple step to help avoid illness, as it benefits overall health and supports the immune system. 

Overview

The immune system: a brief review

It is widely known that our general health relies on a robust and well-supported immune system. It protects against harmful substances that may enter the body or damage cellular changes that can occur inside it (e.g., cancer). Substances that can enter externally and make us ill include germs (pathogens) such as bacteria, parasites, fungi, or viruses.3 Our immune system has two parts: innate (non-specific) and adaptive immunity (specific).3 

Innate immunity

The innate immune system refers to physical barriers that protect our body from invasion by foreign substances, such as the skin or other epithelial surfaces found in the lungs or gut.4 It mainly consists of natural killer cells (NK) and phagocytes, which ingest and destroy pathogens.5 

Adaptive immunity

Adaptive immunity is a ‘learned’ or specific response mounted by B cells, T cells and antibodies to destroy a particular pathogen if the innate immune system fails.3 B cells and T cells are a type of white blood cell (lymphocyte). B cells produce antibodies, and T cells can kill infected cells or recruit other immune cells to the site of infection.5

Antibodies are vital for immune system memory if the body encounters that specific pathogen in the future. Within these two arms of the immune system are a range of other immune cells that can also aid in removing pathogens. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, breadfruit can provide particular nutrients to these immune cells to help prevent illness.

Nutritional composition of breadfruit

Breadfruit contains many nutrients, such as calcium, potassium, amino acids, iron, vitamin C and B3.1 It also contains high levels of antioxidants like beta-carotene and other carotenoids, which protect against vitamin A deficiency and cancer.1 Carotenoids are natural chemical compounds responsible for plants' yellow, red and orange pigmentation.

They are also a good source of pro-vitamin A.6 Consuming antioxidants such as β-carotene is essential as it protects against cellular damage caused by free radicals.7 This antioxidant can protect against heart disease and age-related macular degeneration and enhance the immune system.7 Breadfruit is also high in dietary fibre, essential for general bowel health and gut motility.8 

Immune system support

Vitamin C content in breadfruit

Vitamin C levels found in breadfruit can boost immune support.1 Although no concrete evidence supports supplementing the common cold with high doses of vitamin C in healthy individuals, it is often still recommended.9 Consuming vitamin C has many advantages as it can guide immune cells, such as phagocytes, to the site of infection, protect against oxidative damage from stress, stimulate T cell proliferation and help NK generation.9,10

Oxidative stress refers to the build-up of reactive oxygen species (ROS) within different cells and tissues, which can cause damage.10 Vitamin C is also beneficial for our health as it has anti-inflammatory properties. The immune system typically uses inflammation to detect foreign substances, resulting in their removal.11 At high levels (e.g. acute or chronic), it can lead to an array of inflammatory diseases such as respiratory disease, heart disorders, obesity and cancer.11 

Other vitamins and minerals

Vitamin A

Vitamin A (also known as retinol) is vital for normal vision, protection of epithelial surfaces and immune cell development.12,13 Provitamin Carotenoids (e.g. β-carotene) found in breadfruit are converted into vitamin A by the body. Supporting the epithelial lining of organs is crucial as this is the front line of defence against invasion by pathogens.13 Vitamin A aids the formation and maturation of the epithelium and promotes the secretion of mucus in the respiratory system.13 Vitamin A supports the regulation, migration and differentiation of a range of immune cells; 

  • Macrophages
  • Neutrophils
  • T cells
  • B cells
  • Dendritic cells

Potassium 

Potassium-rich foods can be beneficial for overall health. It is found in all body tissues and is crucial for normal cellular function.14 Potassium deficiency has been connected with various diseases, including cardiovascular disease, kidney stones and osteoporosis.15

Increasing dietary intake of potassium can reduce blood pressure, decrease the risk of stroke and improve overall bone health.15 Immune cells require the intake of readily available potassium to regulate cell signalling during infection. Other biological processes, such as muscle contraction and renal function, rely heavily on potassium.16

Research and studies

What do studies show?

A variety of studies highlight the nutritional properties of breadfruit. Research in mice using breadfruit flour to understand the impact of breadfruit on digestion further has shown it is non-toxic.17 Its low glycemic index makes it an attractive substitute for other carbohydrates, such as wheat, as blood sugar levels will remain more stable.17

This property could help individuals with diabetes. Overall, it is clear that breadfruit can only be beneficial if included as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Dietary requirements and the impact of diet on overall health is a constantly expanding field of study. Specific vitamins and other nutrients prevent disease and maintain an effective immune system. 

Incorporating breadfruit into the diet

Various ways to prepare and consume breadfruit

Breadfruit is unique as its leaves, flowers, seeds, and pulp are all edible.1 It can be cored, peeled and sliced for cooking using steam or oven-cooked to dry the fruit. Breadfruit can also be processed into flour and incorporated into various food items, including baked goods, dairy products and carbohydrates.1 Incorporating breadfruit flour into food items increases their nutritional value and provides a path to distribute globally as it prolongs the shelf-life.1

Substituting a small percentage of wheat flour in certain food products with breadfruit flour does not negatively impact appearance or taste.1 Composite flours contain various vegetable flours rich in starch, protein and vitamins.18 In some developing countries where wheat flour is scarce as the crop struggles to grow because of the climate, composite flour could pave the way for affordable and nutritious bread production.18

What is the recommended daily intake for immune benefits?

The NHS guidelines on the recommended daily intake for a range of vitamins and other nutrients are beneficial for individuals wishing to improve their diet. Little research exists on the specific amount of breadfruit consumed daily to maximise support for the immune system. However, considering its nutritional properties, breadfruit should be incorporated into a well-balanced diet alongside a healthy lifestyle.

Considerations and precautions

Allergies or sensitivities

Individuals who must follow a gluten-free diet because of health-related issues such as coeliac disease or gluten intolerance are becoming more common. Breadfruit flour offers an advantage over other grains such as wheat, barley or rye as it is gluten-free and also high in protein.17 Certain foods can cause allergic reactions. For example, an allergy to the weeping fig plant (Ficus Benjamina) commonly used to decorate homes can lead to rhinitis and asthma.19

This inhalant allergy may lead to cross-reactivity with breadfruit if consumed. Latex-allergic patients have also shown cross-reactive sensitivity to foods, including figs, bananas and potentially breadfruit.19 Please consult a doctor or other health professional if you are concerned about an allergy or sensitivity. 

Moderation in consumption

As with any supplement or nutritionally valuable food, moderation is key when incorporating it into your diet. Consult a dietician or naturopathic therapist if you need professional help to alter your diet to ensure you include all the essential nutrients. A varied diet is commonly recommended to improve public health and reduce the risk of developing a health-related disease.20 

FAQs

How should breadfruit be consumed for immunity?

Breadfruit milled into flour is the best way to benefit from consuming breadfruit. It preserves the nutritional contents and can be easily incorporated into food items such as bread, pasta, and biscuits.1 Purchasing breadfruit flour in Europe may be easier than getting hold of the highly perishable fresh fruit.

Can breadfruit be considered part of a balanced diet for overall health, including immune function?

A well-rounded diet is critical to supporting all parts of the body and biological processes. Deficiencies in certain minerals or vitamins can harm health and lead to disease. A balanced diet that includes breadfruit can improve immune system function by providing specific nutrients that support immune cells. 

Are there specific populations that may benefit more from incorporating breadfruit into their diet for immune support?

In developing countries, wheat flour is a rarity due to the climate conditions required to grow the wheat crop. Breadfruit is a high-production crop and could provide immune support to specific populations in these tropical and developing areas.17 

Is breadfruit used in traditional medicine?

Various parts of the fruit have been used for their medicinal properties. The leaves are rich in phytochemicals and minerals with antimicrobial and wound-healing properties.21 The stem bark can also be extracted for use in cough remedies.21

Can breadfruit interact with medications?

The consumption of breadfruit is generally considered safe. However, it is essential to consult with a health professional if you have any concerns about specific medications interacting with dietary food items.

Summary

The immune system is highly complicated and can be influenced by many internal and external factors (e.g. genetics, age, diet and exercise). Breadfruit is packed with diverse nutrients that can boost your immune system and improve your overall health.

The high number of vitamins and minerals this tropical fruit contains can reduce the risk of various diet-related health problems, including vitamin A deficiency, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, stroke, osteoporosis, and respiratory disease. 

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources has named breadfruit a primary crop for further research. Creating awareness about the benefits of consuming breadfruit as part of a healthy, balanced diet is vital to further driving research on its impact on the body and increasing global distribution.

Substituting wheat for breadfruit flour has many advantages, especially for individuals with gluten-related health issues or in developing countries with limited wheat flour. Considering and altering what food items you consume daily can powerfully impact your physical and mental well-being. 

References

  1. Mehta KA, Quek YCR, Henry CJ. Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis): Processing, nutritional quality, and food applications. Front Nutr [Internet]. 2023 Mar 16 [cited 2024 Jan 15];10:1156155. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10061028/
  2. Ragone D. Breadfruit. In: Caballero B, editor. Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Second Edition) [Internet]. Oxford: Academic Press; 2003 [cited 2024 Jan 15]. p. 655–61. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B012227055X005393
  3. How does the immune system work? In: InformedHealth.org [Internet] [Internet]. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2020 [cited 2024 Jan 15]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279364/
  4. Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, Raff M, Roberts K, Walter P. Innate immunity. In: Molecular Biology of the Cell 4th edition [Internet]. Garland Science; 2002 [cited 2024 Jan 15]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26846/
  5. Immune cells | NIAID: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from: https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/immune-cells
  6. Jones AMP, Baker R, Ragone D, Murch SJ. Identification of pro-vitamin A carotenoid-rich cultivars of breadfruit (Artocarpus, moraceae). Journal of Food Composition and Analysis [Internet]. 2013 Aug 1 [cited 2024 Jan 16];31(1):51–61. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889157513000537
  7. Zehiroglu C, Ozturk Sarikaya SB. The importance of antioxidants and place in today’s scientific and technological studies. J Food Sci Technol [Internet]. 2019 Nov [cited 2024 Jan 16];56(11):4757–74. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6828919/
  8. Barber TM, Kabisch S, Pfeiffer AFH, Weickert MO. The health benefits of dietary fibre. Nutrients [Internet]. 2020 Oct 21 [cited 2024 Jan 16];12(10):3209. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7589116/
  9. Cerullo G, Negro M, Parimbelli M, Pecoraro M, Perna S, Liguori G, et al. The long history of vitamin c: from prevention of the common cold to potential aid in the treatment of covid-19. Frontiers in Immunology [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 Jan 16];11. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2020.574029
  10. Pizzino G, Irrera N, Cucinotta M, Pallio G, Mannino F, Arcoraci V, et al. Oxidative stress: harms and benefits for human health. Oxid Med Cell Longev [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2024 Jan 16];2017:8416763. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551541/
  11. Pahwa R, Goyal A, Jialal I. Chronic inflammation. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2024 Jan 16]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
  12. Office of dietary supplements - vitamin A and carotenoids [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 17]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-Consumer/
  13. Huang Z, Liu Y, Qi G, Brand D, Zheng SG. Role of vitamin A in the immune system. J Clin Med [Internet]. 2018 Sep 6 [cited 2024 Jan 17];7(9):258. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6162863/
  14. Office of dietary supplements - potassium [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 17]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-HealthProfessional/
  15. Palmer BF, Clegg DJ. Achieving the benefits of a high-potassium, paleolithic diet, without the toxicity. Mayo Clinic Proceedings [Internet]. 2016 Apr 1 [cited 2024 Jan 17];91(4):496–508. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025619616000471
  16. Do EA, Gries CM. Beyond homeostasis: potassium and pathogenesis during bacterial infections. Richardson AR, editor. Infect Immun [Internet]. 2021 Jun 16 [cited 2024 Jan 17];89(7):e00766-20. Available from: https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/IAI.00766-20
  17. Liu Y, Brown PN, Ragone D, Gibson DL, Murch SJ. Breadfruit flour is a healthy option for modern foods and food security. PLoS One [Internet]. 2020 Jul 23 [cited 2024 Jan 17];15(7):e0236300. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7377419/
  18. Olaoye OA, Ade-Omowaye BIO. Chapter 17 - composite flours and breads: potential of local crops in developing countries. In: Preedy VR, Watson RR, Patel VB, editors. Flour and Breads and their Fortification in Health and Disease Prevention [Internet]. San Diego: Academic Press; 2011 [cited 2024 Jan 18]. p. 183–92. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123808868100170
  19. Díez-Gómez ML, Quirce S, Aragoneses E, Cuevas M. Asthma caused by ficus benjamina latex: evidence of cross-reactivity with fig fruit and papain. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology [Internet]. 1998 Jan 1 [cited 2024 Jan 18];80(1):24–30. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1081120610629341
  20. de Oliveira Otto MC, Padhye NS, Bertoni AG, Jacobs DR, Mozaffarian D. Everything in moderation - dietary diversity and quality, central obesity and risk of diabetes. PLoS One [Internet]. 2015 Oct 30 [cited 2024 Jan 18];10(10):e0141341. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4627729/
  21. Ojimelukwe PC, Ugwuona FU. The traditional and medicinal use of African breadfruit (Treculia africana Decne): an underutilized ethnic food of the Ibo tribe of South East, Nigeria. Journal of Ethnic Foods [Internet]. 2021 Aug 19 [cited 2024 Jan 19];8(1):21. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186/s42779-021-00097-1

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Sophie McCafferty

Taught MSc, Cancer Cell Biology, University of Sussex

Sophie is an Associate Medical Writer with several years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry developing orally administered vaccines and writing articles on topics related to healthcare. She has a strong academic background with a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Cancer Biology.

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