In ancient times pomegranate fruit was regarded as a symbol of fertility, primarily due to its round, voluptuous shape bursting with ripe seeds. However, due to the myriad of health benefits it offers, this exotic fruit is now the centre of attention within the medical community.
The name “pomegranate” comes from the Latin, “pommum” meaning “apple” and “granatum” meaning “seeded”, in reference to its shape and content of multiple sweet seeds. The fruit is native to the middle-east, growing in regions ranging from Iran to the Himalayas and cultivated extensively throughout the Mediterranean.
Pomegranate provides an excellent source of antioxidants, chemicals which neutralize destructive free radicals in the body. Free radicals form during the body’s normal metabolic processes, such as converting food into energy, or the destruction of a virus, but are greatly elevated in smoking, obesity, poor diet and stress. Research has linked free radical oxidation to many degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease and alzheimers. Each pomegranate seed is surrounded by a juicy pulp rich in potassium, vitamin C, folic acid, alkaloids and polyphenols, many of which possess antioxidant properties. Its antioxidant strength is almost three times that seen in red wine or green tea.
In several human studies, pomegranate juice has been found to reduce cardiac risk factors that lead to artherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. The antioxidants in pomegranate can reduce plaque build up in artery walls and reduce damage to the cells lining blood vessels. These lining cells produce nitric oxide, a chemical that helps to relax and dilate the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow particularly to the heart. Researchers have found that when treated with pomegranate juice, heart cells increased their nitric oxide production by 50%.
Further studies performed on 22 diabetic patients taking pomegranate juice for eight weeks showed significant reduction in total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol), with no significant change in HDL (good cholesterol). The study concluded that pomegranate consumption could modify this particular risk factor especially in hyperlipidemic and diabetic patients and should therefore be included in their diets.
In a similar study, mice were given pomegranate extract while being fed high fat diets. Despite the increase in dietary fat, their total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL significantly dropped, along with overall body weight and caloric intake. Investigators found that this was due to inhibition of pancreatic lipase activity by the pomegranate extract. Pomegranate juice or extracts may be of benefit to those at risk or suffering from obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.
Interest in pomegranate extract as an anti-cancer agent is increasingly identified in the literature. Research indicates that extracts of pomegranate juice contain phytochemicals, which are known to have anti-cancer activity. It has been demonstrated that pomegranate juice extract interferes with tumour cell proliferation and growth, as well as disrupting the angiogenic (blood vessel formation) processes so vital to tumour survival. Other research has found that the polyphenol extracts of pomegranate can block endogenous oestrogen formation and promote tumour cell death in certain breast cancers.
Further research on men with prostate cancer treated with pomegranate juice over a 54-month period showed remarkable results. Mean PSA doubling time significantly increased due to 12% reduction in prostate cell proliferation and a 17% increase in apoptosis (cell death) with a 23% increase in anti-oxidative nitric oxide production.
Finally, pomegranate juice appears to have yet another powerful benefit, an anti-viral effect. Studies have shown activity against herpes (HSV-1) and HIV-1.
Pomegranate appears to contain a number of medicinally useful chemicals with properties ranging from anti-oxidant through anti-cancer and anti-viral.
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