Pomegranate has been touted as a superfood in the press and natural food world. But is it really? There are some very interesting findings that suggest it is a powerhouse due to its high anti-oxidant value. However there are some questions about its true value.
Pomegranate Resembles the Female Ovary
Pomegranate is an ancient food that has been cultivated for over 4,000 years. From the Latin Punicum malum it means Phoenician apple. It is also known as a Chinese Apple.
Because of its striking resemblance to the female ovary it has been used as a symbol of fertility for many ancient cultures. The fruit contains tiny sacs for the seeds — much like the eggs in an ovary.
Some studies suggest that pomegranate may provide all three forms of estrogen that come from the female ovary — estradiol, estrone and estriol.
Pomegranate is a powerful anti-oxidant — comparable to blueberries, red wine or green tea. It is rich in vitamins C, A and E as well as folic acid. The polyphenol anti-oxidants in pomegranate juice include punicalagin, which is unique to pomegranates. There are also anti-oxidants called anthocyanins, which are responsible for giving pomegranate juice its rich red color.
Anti-oxidants are very important because they protect us from free radical damage to cells, tissues and organs. Free radical damage is what drives inflammation. Current medical thinking is revolving around the concept that inflammation is at the bottom of many chronic illnesses. Read more about inflammation here.
Protection from Breast Cancer
This study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Biochemistry in 2012 found that pomegranate fruit exerted an anti-proliferative effect on human breast cancer cells in vitro. They concluded that pomegranate
may have the potential for prevention of estrogen-dependent breast cancers with beneficial effects in other hormone-dependent tissues.
This study published in Cancer Prevention Research in 2009, found that the ellagic acid which is released when eating pomegranate, has anti-aromatase activity and inhibition of testosterone-induced breast cancer cell proliferation. The aromatase enzyme, which converts androgen to estrogen, plays a key role in breast cancer proliferation.
Eating fruit, such as pomegranates, that contain anti-aromatase phytochemicals reduces the incidence of hormone-dependent breast cancer.
The researchers concluded that,
These studies suggest that pomegranate ET–derived compounds have potential for the prevention of estrogen-responsive breast cancers.
Protects the Heart
This study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004 found that pomegranate juice inhibited LDL oxidation, macrophage foam cell formation, and attenuation of atherosclerosis development in people with atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. They concluded that,
The results of the present study thus suggest that PJ (pomegranate juice) consumption by patients with CAS (carotid artery stenosis) decreases carotid IMT (thickness) and systolic blood pressure and these effects could be related to the potent antioxidant characteristics of PJ polyphenols.
This study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000 found that pomegranate juice reduced the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and had a healthy effect on other parameters of heart health in mice. It is the oxidation of cholesterol that is problematic, not the cholesterol numbers. This effect of pomegranate juice is very encouraging.
Other benefits include mood improvement and increased bone density as well as many other unsubstantiated claims.
Some of the studies have been sponsored by the very companies that grow and produce pomegranate juice. According to nutrition expert Marion Nestle at NYU, in regards to a law suit filed against POM for its health claims,
POM has invested more than $35 million in research to prove that pomegranate juice has health benefits. It has sponsored about 100 studies at 44 different institutions. At least 70 of these studies were published in peer-reviewed journals.
It is not difficult to design research studies to give sponsors the answers they want and to make sure they are conducted well. POM is getting the best research that money can buy.
One such study, of the effects of drinking pomegranate juice on myocardial perfusion (MP, blood flow to the heart), was conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish, who runs a preventive medicine institute in California.
She goes on to say,
Let’s be clear what’s at stake here. According to the decision document, the owners of POM control 18,000 acres of pomegranate orchards.
From September 2002 through November 2010, sales of POM juice alone totaled nearly $248 million (the supplements and other products add more).
Health claims are about marketing, not health.
This appears to be in much the same vein as when pharmaceutical companies carry out their own research to present to the FDA, or food manufacturers for that matter.
Many of the studies with pomegranate were small and would need to be repeated with a larger sample size to be more meaningful. Additionally, some of the studies were with mice.
But there is a more pressing caveat to the wonders of pomegranate juice. That is that there is a fair amount of sugar in the juice. There are 32 grams of sugar in a cup of the juice. Even with all the excitement generated by the potential health findings, it is prudent to drink only a small amount of the juice (or the fruit) along with other foods to avoid the glycemic effects of the sugars.
With this in mind, should we be calling pomegranate a super food? I like to reserve the term superfood for those nutrient dense traditional foods such as fermented foods, organ meats, pasture raised eggs, fatty fish, fish eggs and butter from pasture raised cow milk.
I do enjoy pomegranate as a flavor for my kombucha. The fermentation will remove much of the sugar, leaving the beneficial anti-oxidant value intact. Combined with the many benefits of kombucha — now there’s a superfood!
Have you used pomegranate for any conditions or symptoms? Has it helped? Leave a comment and let me know!