The pomegranate has been called a superfood mainly because of its antioxidant properties. Much research has been done to reveal that this old-fashioned fruit has some of the most amazing health benefits. Even the seeds have health-giving properties.
As a child growing up on a farm in the country, I can remember heading off with my brother on our quest to look for pomegranates. We knew where the tree was located; so we took off on our bicycles, loaded down with bags and baskets to bring some fruit home. We were told not to get the juice on our clothes as it would stain, but we loved the thrill of collecting these fruits. Little did we know that they are loaded with so many health benefits.
Each pomegranate is composed of hundreds of small seeds, each surrounded by a sac of sweet-tart reddish colored juice contained by a thin skin. The seeds are compacted around the core in a layer resembling honeycomb. The layers of seeds are separated by paper-thin white membranes which are bitter to the tongue. The inner membranes and rind are not generally eaten due to high tannic acid content.
Many people eat the fresh fruit by chewing on the seeds to release the juice from the sacs and then swallow seeds and all. The seeds are considered good roughage to help cleanse the body. In India, the seeds are dried and ground into a powder and used to flavor meat dishes. Others will get the juice from the seeds and then spit out the seeds. Eat or discard the seeds according to your personal preference.
Pomegranate juice, with its high levels of anti-oxidants, protects healthy cells from damage by destructive groups of atoms called free radicals. It also contains polyphenols and isoflavones, which are believed to play a role in cancer cell death. It is rich in vitamin C, fiber and potassium and is also effective as an anti-inflammatory.
Pomegranates rank high in the list of foods believed helpful in the prevention of cancer. The antioxidants and other compounds in pomegranates help to inhibit the initial formation of cancer cells, activate the enzymes that identify and fix damaged DNA, help eliminate damaged cells, and impair multiplication of cancerous cells.
Consuming pomegranate juice and eating the fresh fruit have been known to have positive effects on numerous types of cancers, especially prostate, breast, lung, skin, and colon cancers. Studies in Israel have shown that pomegranate juice destroys breast cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone and may also prevent breast cancer cells from forming. Other studies show that it inhibits the development of lung cancer. It has been shown to slow down the growth of prostate cancer in mice. In a study with 50 men who have had treatment for prostate cancer, one glass of pomegranate juice per day kept PSA levels stable, reducing the need for further treatment such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy.
For 10 years Allan Pantuck, M.D., director of cancer research at UCLA has specialized in the treatment of prostate cancer. Dr. Pantuck was honored by the U.S. Army for his investigations into slowing prostate cancer progression by blocking estrogen. He has received awards several times from the National Institute of Health for his research and written more than 150 peer-reviewed journals on the subject. Now he is sharing his findings from a major study that uses simple, totally safe ingredients to inhibit estrogen production and slow prostate cancer.
Dr. Pantuck studied 50 men over five years. Before enrolling in the study, every man had been treated for prostate cancer. Treatments included surgery or radiation. In all cases, the treatment had failed. Each man’s PSA levels were rising quickly. Their cancer had returned and it was growing fast.
For men with no history of prostate cancer, PSA levels may not always be an accurate indicator of cancer. But when a patient has been diagnosed and treated for cancer, PSA levels are an accurate way to see if the cancer is in remission. When those levels rise quickly, it is a sure indication that the cancer has returned and is progressing quickly. This was the case for every man in the study.
Dr. Pantuck gave each man 250 ml of pomegranate juice each day – and no other treatment. Within weeks the juice was stabilizing their PSA levels and slowing their PSA doubling times. Doubling time is critical in prostate cancer. Patients with short doubling times are much more likely to die from prostate cancer, says Dr. Pantuck. In the case of the test group, the average doubling time was about 15 months.
Adding this simple fruit juice made a big difference. The researchers recorded a four-fold increase in doubling times. Instead of taking 15 months to double, the time increased to 54 months for 82 percent of the men on the study.
“That’s a big increase,” says Dr. Pantuck. “In older men we can give them pomegranate juice and they may outlive their risk of dying from cancer. We’re hoping we may be able to prevent the need for other therapies which bring with them harmful side effects.”
There were further big improvements. The researchers’ results also showed a 12 percent decrease in cancer cell growth and a 17 percent increase in cancer cell death. “There are many substances in the juice that may be prompting this response,” says Dr. Pantuck. “We don’t know if it’s one magic bullet or the combination of everything else we know is in this juice.”
Pomegranates improve cardiovascular health by reducing serum LDL levels, or bad cholesterol, in healthy and in diabetic patients. A study published in 2008 in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry confirmed the findings of previous studies that whole pomegranate fruit and pomegranate juice demonstrate the ability to prevent and reverse atherosclerosis, or the build-up of plaque on artery walls. This means a decrease in blood pressure and increased blood flow to the heart and therefore reducing the chance of having a heart attack.
Long-term inflammation can cause multiple chronic diseases like rheumatic arthritis, asthma and cardiovascular disease. Pomegranates possess chemicals that reduce inflammation, helping to prevent and relieve symptoms of some of these diseases.
Other Health Benefits
- Pomegranates possess antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-diarrheal properties. People drinking the juice have seen considerable improvement in their skin and oral health.
- Because of less amyloid plaque build up in the brain, pomegranate consumption may prevent and slow Alzheimer’s disease. Mental tasks become easier.
- It may help to slow down the aging process and is beneficial in maintaining the elasticity and health of skin.
- It may help to prevent tooth decay by suppressing the detrimental bacteria that cause plaque and tooth decay.
- It may inhibit the replication of Influenza viruses.
- It may inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and may inhibit the production of endotoxins by Staphylococcus aureus.
- Pomegranates fight diarrhea, bronchitis, sore throat, and nausea.
Pomegranates can be purchased in season and eaten, but a very easy addition to the diet is the juice. Be aware that most pomegranate juice is flash pasteurized and is usually found in a clear container. Both of these factors result in the loss of some of the nutrients. Thus you cannot be sure of receiving all of the juice’s health benefits, but the benefits you do get will definitely outweigh the drawbacks. Therefore, try adding pomegranate juice to your diet.
Pomegranate juice is available in many supermarkets. Be sure to read the label to make sure you are getting a quality product that is 100% pure juice, or 100% pure juice from concentrate, at the very least. Also make sure that no sugars are added.
It has been stated that one glass of pomegranate juice a day can help your health in many different ways. The fruit has long been used in folk medicine in the Middle East and India. Healers have used the bark, leaves, skin and rind as well as the edible fruit to cure a multitude of ills. A boiled infusion of the rinds is said to soothe a sore throat and a scalp massage paste made from the leaves is thought to reverse baldness.
Kaye Sehm, Back to Eden Newsletter. Winter 2011, No. 47, P.O. Box 850, Lavington NSW 2641 Australia Telephone +61-2-6025-5018