The pomegranate, an ancient fruit from Persia, created the winter and summer in the myth of Persephone and is thought to be the mythical forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Pomegranates are now in season; as you savor their juicy seeds, think about these recent studies on their health-giving properties. The antioxidant capacity of pomegranate juice has been shown to be three times higher than that of red wine and green tea, based on the evaluation of the free-radical scavenging of the juices.. The principal antioxidant ‘polyphenols’ in pomegranate juice are concentrated in the peel, membranes, and piths of the fruit. Commercial pomegranate juice is obtained by pressing the whole pomegranate fruit. Much of the commercially available pomegranate juice comes from a California variety of pomegranate called Wonderful. The 100% pomegranate juice called ‘POM Wonderful’ is from these fruits, and extracts from the POM Wonderful company have been used in many of the research trials worldwide.
Heart Health Laboratory studies at the University of Naples, Italy, and UCLA show that pomegranate juice increases the activity of nitric oxide, a blood gas that increases blood flow in the heart muscle. Pomegranate was found to be more potent than red wine, concord grape or blueberry juice in this regard.. Research at UCSF by Dr Dean Ornish showed that patients with coronary heart disease had a 17% increase in blood flow to the heart after 3 months of drinking 8.5 ounces of pomegranate juice per day. A control group had an 18% worsening of such blood flow. A study of 10 patients in Israel who were given pomegranate juice daily for a year showed a 30% reduction in the abnormal thickening of blood vessels leading to their brains, and a 12% lowering of their systolic blood pressure
Cancer Studies from UCLA have shown that pomegranate extracts inhibit cancer cell growth in the lab, prevent blood vessel growth to nourish cancer cells, and cause death of cancer cells. A 6 year study at UCLA of men with prostate cancer recurrence after surgery or radiotherapy showed a slower increase in PSA levels when treated with 8 ounces of pomegranate juice daily. Laboratory and animal studies are ongoing on pomegranate extracts and lung, breast and other common cancers.
Arthritis Recent laboratory studies from the University of South Carolina show that pomegranate juice extract inhibits certain white blood cells that cause inflammation. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University found that pomegranate extract added to cartilage samples in the lab was able to stop the degrading of cartilage cells by inflammatory molecules. Studies are ongoing to determine the absorption rate of pomegranate fruit extracts into human cartilage cells.
Erectile Dysfunction A study from the University of Southern California looked at 61 men who had difficulty getting or maintaining an erection. The men drank 8 ounces of pomegranate juice or a placebo beverage with dinner, and switched groups after a month. 47% of subjects reported that their erections improved with pomegranate juice, compared to 32% of men on the placebo. This result did not reach statistical significance, and was not as favorable as a related trial of Cialis (73% of men reported a benefit, vs. 26% on placebo). However, compared to Cialis, there are no known dangerous side effects from pomegranate juice; its benefits may result in increased blood flow to the penis, as noted in the studies in heart disease.
Recipes Many delicious ways of using pomegranate seeds in cooking are found in recipes from the middle east. Rave reviews are given to the book 'Pomegranate, 70 Celebratory Recipes', by Ann Kleinberg. I have just ordered a copy, so call me if you want to come to dinner.
Sadja Greenwood, M.D. MPH