Pomegranate: Mythical Fruit of Paradise, Antioxidant Powerhouse

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Pomegranates are mythical fruits of paradise with powerful antioxidants that fight cancer + protect the heart & joints. Tweet This.

 

A pomegranate ripe for the picking.

Super Powers & Health Benefits

  1. Heart Disease Prevention
  2. Potent Antioxidant
  3. Cancer Fighting
  4. Protects Joints
  5. Anti-Microbial
  6. Immune Boosting

Secret Compounds

  1. Polyphenols - phytochemicals (found in plants) that act as antioxidants, which are thought to be anti-aging and a key protection against degenerative ailments like as cancer and heart disease.
  2. Punicalagins - a type of polyphenol found *only* in pomegranates! Highly bioavailabie, punicalagins are the most important pomegranate compound. Shown to benefit the heart and blood vessels, punicalagins also break down into ellagic acid, which has shown promising cancer-fighting properties.
  3. Flavonoids - another group of antioxidants, which appear to have anti-inflammatory effects, reduce cell damage tied to heart disease, help lower blood pressure, improve circulation and possibly inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
  4. Punicic acid - a polyunsaturated fatty acid. In vitro (test tube studies), it shows anti-cancer activity against prostate cancer cells.
  5. Vitamin C - boosts immunity and helps the body fight diseases and cancer more effectively. Also helps repair damaged tissues, the formation of blood vessels and the absorption of iron. (A pomegranate provides 40% of the daily requirement!)
  6. Potassium - helps normalize heart rhythm, regulate blood pressure and decreases chance of stroke. Also helps sustain metabolism as well as fluid and electrolyte level.
  7. Folate - key in red blood cell development. Deficiency can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and can make the body more susceptible to cancer. Adequate folate levels are necessary for proper brain functioning.

Identifying The Pomegranate

The pomegranate is native to Persia (modern day Iran) and has been grown in the Middle East, India, Russia and the Mediterranean for several millennia! You’ll also find them in northern Africa, southern Europe, southeast Asia and California & Arizona in the US.

Girl With A Pomegranate, by William Bouguereau (1875)

According to legend, these pinkish-red orbs grew in the garden of Eden…but you can probably find them at your local grocery store! October to January is pomegranate season in the Northern hemisphere. Look for fruit that’s heavy for its size (lots of juice inside!) and has bright, unblemished skin. The juice is available year round.

Like apples, pomegranates grow on trees…but that’s about where the comparison ends. Beneath their thin, leathery skin, each one holds hundreds of glistening ruby arils (juice-filled sacs that surround the actual seeds), embedded in a white, spongy membrane. Getting these little jewels out can be a bit time-consuming, but we’ve got a trick to share with you below.

The Nom-Nom Factor

First things first — are these little aril thingies worth all the effort? I mean, it sounds exotic and all but…

The answer is a resounding, mouthwatering YES!

When ripe, the arils have a lovely sweetness that’s balanced by just the right amount of tart. Simply pop them in your mouth and enjoy the literal burst of flavor. You don’t have to chew/swallow the seed part, but many people do. The seeds are pretty mild-tasting with just a slight crunch. They’re a good source of fiber and contain some of pomegranate’s secret compounds.

Follow the steps below for easier pomegranate-plundering:

  1. CUT. Cut off the bottom of the pomegranate, and then the crown at the top.
  2. SCORE. Once the ends have been removed, you’ll see 4-6 sections of the white membrane. With the knife, score (lightly cut through the outer skin to make it easy to pull apart) along each section.
  3. OPEN. Working over a bowl of water, use both hands to carefully pull the pomegranate apart into smaller sections.
  4. LOOSEN. Loosen up the arils from the white membrane. They’ll sink to the bottom, and the inedible stuff will float to the top.
  5. SCOOP. Use a spoon to scoop the white membrane out of the bowl.
  6. STRAIN. Pour the water and arils through a strainer.
  7. ENJOY! This one is easy, guys.

Note: Pomegranate juice can stain. Best to work on a plastic cutting board while *not* wearing your favorite shirt. 

You can sometimes buy the fresh seeds at grocery stores, already harvested for you. They make a refreshing snack, and they’re great on salads! You can also try sprinkling them into yogurt or oatmeal. Drinking 8 – 12 oz. of pomegranate juice per day is considered safe. Look for 100% juice with low or no added sugar.

 

Pomegranate: The Mythical Fruit of Paradise

The pomegranate is a mythological heavyweight: a symbol of abundance, fertility, birth, death and eternal life. That about covers things, no? One of the oldest fruits, it’s been traced back as far as 3,000 BC. So, it’s no surprise really that its found far and wide in ancient lore.

“Let us go early to the vineyards to see… if the pomegranates are in bloom – there I will give you my love.”  Song of Solomon 7:12

Ancient Egyptian pomegranates.

Ancient Persians believed that the seeds made their warriors invincible. Important Egyptians were buried with pomegranates in the hope of rebirth, and the Greeks referred to it as the fruit of the dead. It adorned the clothing of Hebrew high priests and symbolized longevity in ancient China. According to the Qur’an, these heavenly orbs grow in the gardens of Paradise; some scholars even say that the apple from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden was actually a pomegranate. No wonder this fruit wears its own little crown!

Long used in folk medicine in the Middle East, India and China, healers have used the bark, leaves, skin and rind as well as the edible parts of the fruit to cure everything from conjunctivitis to hemorrhoids.

In the New World, Spanish missionaries planted the first pomegranate trees (muchas gracias!), but we’re just embracing this magical fruit. Thankfully, all parts of the pomegranate are undergoing serious scientific testing, and we’re beginning to understand its many healthy super powers.

Research from the Lab

Potent Antioxidant. Pomegranate has incredibly potent levels of antioxidants, more than red wine, green tea and blueberries! Studies are showing that antioxidants – particularly polyphenols – are helpful in protecting against degenerative ailments like heart disease and cancer.

Heart Disease Prevention. In limited studies in human and animals, pomegranate has been shown to exert wide, significant protection against heart disease.In one study, researchers studied patients with severe artery blockages, who drank one ounce of pomegranate juice each day for a year. Not only did their systolic blood pressure lower by over 12 percent, but there was an average 30 percent reduction in atherosclerotic plaque (fatty deposits on artery walls). In the control group that didn’t drink the juice, plaque increased by 9 percent after one year! 2

In other studies, potent antioxidants found in pomegranates reduced platelet aggregation (which leads to blood clots) and naturally lowered blood pressure, factors that help prevent both heart attacks and strokes. 3, 4  Other studies saw it reduce oxidative stress, which is thought to be linked to heart disease, since oxidation of LDL (bad cholesterol) is a precursor to plaque formation in the arteries. 5, 6

Pomegranates are also high in heart-healthy nutrients like Potassium and Folate.

Cancer-Fighting.  In vitro (test tube studies), pomegranate extracts slow down the reproduction of cancer cells and may hasten their death. Some extracts also help reduce blood supply to tumors, starving them and making them smaller. 7, 8  A number of in vitro studies have shown this remarkable anti-cancer effect. Most studies have focused on breast and prostate cancer cells 9-12, but researchers are also seeing hopeful results with colon cancer, 13 leukemia 14 and lung cancer 15 in lab animals.  A 2009 study found that pomegranate juice significantly slowed the development of prostate cancer in men. 16 

In 2010, researchers from the University of California at Riverside reported to the American Society for Cell Biology that various compounds and fatty acids in pomegranate juice may prevent cancer cells from metastasizing (spreading to other parts of the body)  - and may even be capable of killing them. The researchers tested pomegranate juice on laboratory-cultured prostate cancer cells and observed a decrease in the cells’ rate of adhesion. Many of the cells died after coming into contact with pomegranate juice. 17

Researchers suspect that pomegranate extracts may actually have preventative powers when it comes to cancer. Additional studies and clinical trials currently taking place are hopeful to reveal these fascinating effect on humans.

Protects Joints.  Flavanoids found in pomegranate fruit have been suggested as treatments for osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage in joints wears down, causing pain and stiffness. Researchers believe flavonoids can help block inflammation that contributes to the destruction of cartilage, bringing relief and slowing down the progression of arthritis. In test tube and animal studies, pomegranate extract blocked the production of a cartilage-destroying enzyme. 18-20 The results were promising; however, more studies — and studies that look at the effects in humans — are needed.

Anti-Microbial. Pomegranates have shown anti-microbial activity against a host of bacteria, fungi and viruses. The peel extract appears to be the most potent of these. The highest antibacterial activity was against Staphylococcus aureus (Staph infection), K. pneumoniae (bacterial pneumonia) and E. coli (food poisoning). Among fungi, high activity against Aspergillus niger (black mold) and Candida albacans (causes yeast infections) was recorded. 21-25  Pomegranate’s anti-bacterial capacity has also been shown to be effective agains dental plaque bacteria. 26-27 And, in addition to its anti-microbial activities, pomegranate has quite a bit of vitamin C, which also helps to boost the immune system and increase resistance to infections. 28

Possible Interactions

Although researchers aren’t certain, some evidence indicates that pomegranate juice may interact with several medications (much like grapefruit juice does). If you take any of the following medications, you shouldn’t consume pomegranate in large amounts or in medicinal format without first talking to your doctor.

  • ACE inhibitors (hypertension medications)
  • Statins (medications used to lower cholesterols)
  • Warfarin (Coumadin)
  • Buspirone (anxiety treatment)

Research References

  1. Pomegranate juice: a heart-healthy fruit juice.  Nutr Rev. 2009 
  2. Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation.  Clin Nutr. 2004
  3. Pomegranate juice consumption reduces oxidative stress, atherogenic modifications to LDL, and platelet aggregation: studies in humans and in atherosclerotic apolipoprotein E-deficient mice.  Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 
  4. Pomegranate juice consumption inhibits serum angiotensin converting enzyme activity and reduces systolic blood pressure.  Atherosclerosis. 2001
  5. Pomegranate juice reduces oxidized low-density lipoprotein downregulation of endothelial nitric oxide synthase in human coronary endothelial cells.  Nitric Oxide. 2006
  6. Effects of a pomegranate fruit extract rich in punicalagin on oxidation-sensitive genes and eNOS activity at sites of perturbed shear stress and atherogenesis.  Cardiovasc Res. 2007
  7. “In vitro antiproliferative, apoptotic and antioxidant activities of punicalagin, ellagic acid and a total pomegranate tannin extract are enhanced in combination with other polyphenols as found in pomegranate juice.”  J. Nutr. Biochem 2005
  8. Preliminary studies on the anti-angiogenic potential of pomegranate fractions in vitro and in vivo.  Angiogenesis 2003
  9. Chemopreventive and adjuvant therapeutic potential of pomegranate (Punica granatum) for human breast cancer.  Breast Cancer Res Treat 2002
  10. Anticancer activities of pomegranate extracts and genistein in human breast cancer cells.  J Med Food. 2005 Winter
  11. Ellagitannin-rich pomegranate extract inhibits angiogenesis in prostate cancer in vitro and in vivo.  Int J Oncol. 2008
  12. Pomegranate extract inhibits androgen-independent prostate cancer growth through a nuclear factor-kappaB-dependent mechanism.  Mol Cancer Ther. 2008
  13. Pomegranate seed oil rich in conjugated linolenic acid suppresses chemically induced colon carcinogenesis in rats.  Cancer Sci 2004 
  14. Differentiation-promoting activity of pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit extracts in HL-60 human promyelocytic leukemia cells.  J Med Food 2004 
  15. Khan N, Afaq F, Kweon MH, Kim K, Mukhtar H. Oral consumption of pomegranate fruit extract inhibits growth and progression of primary lung tumors in mice.  Carcinogenesis. 2007
  16. Phase II study of pomegranate juice for men with rising prostate-specific antigen following surgery or radiation for prostate cancer.  Clin Cancer Res. 2006
  17. Wang L, Alcon A, Yuan H, Ho J, Li QJ, Martins-Green M. Cellular and molecular mechanisms of pomegranate juice-induced anti-metastatic effect on prostate cancer cells.   Integr Biol (Camb). 2011; (see also: http://newsroom.ucr.edu/2512)
  18. Chondroprotective effects of pomegranate juice on monoiodoacetate-induced osteoarthritis of the knee joint of mice.  Phytother Res. 2009 
  19. Molecular targets of natural health products in arthritis.  Arthritis Res Ther. 2011 
  20. Pomegranate extract inhibits the interleukin-1β-induced activation of MKK-3, p38α-MAPK and transcription factor RUNX-2 in human osteoarthritis chondrocytes.  Arthritis Res Ther. 2010 
  21. Antioxidant, antimalarial and antimicrobial activities of tannin-rich fractions, ellagitannins and phenolic acids from Punica granatum L.  Planta Med.2007
  22. Antimicrobial Activity of Six Pomegranate (Punica granatum L.) Varieties and Their Relation to Some of Their Pomological and Phytonutrient Characteristics.  Molecules 2009
  23. Antimicrobial evaluation of some plants used in Mexican traditional medicine for the treatment of infectious diseases.   J Ethnopharmacol. 1996
  24. Pomegranate pericarp extract enhances the antibacterial activity of ciprofloxacin against extended-spectrum β-lactamase (ESBL) and metallo-β-lactamase (MBL) producing Gram-negative bacilli.  Food Chem Toxicol. 2012
  25. Pomegranate extract inhibits Staphylococcus aureus growth and subsequent enterotoxin production.  J Ethnopharmacol. 2005
  26. Punica granatum (pomegranate) extract is active against dental plaque.  J Herb Pharmacother. 2006
  27. Pomegranate extract mouth rinsing effects on saliva measures relevant to gingivitis risk.  Phytother Res. 2009 Aug
  28. USDA Nutritional Information

Further Reading

The Pomegranate: Nature’s Power Fruit?   Journal of the National Cancer Institute

  • apel

    Very informative information about Pomegranate.

  • Laina

    No wonder it was mentioned in the Holy Quraan, among some other fruits like figs , dates & olives. Everyday, the science proves that no word is mentioned in that Holy book haphazardly.
    Just had some organic Pomegranite juice… a bit bitter but weirdly refreshing and I got to pretend I was being healthy for a bit!