Pomegranate, with its characteristic red arils, is a small but mighty superfood. It’s been called an antioxidant superstar since researchers have confirmed that pomegranate has three times the antioxidant power of red wine and green tea.
The antioxidant impact in pomegranate comes from compounds known as polyphenols. Pomegranate includes flavonoids (catechin and anthocyanins), condensed tannins, phenolic acids, hydrolysable tannins (punicalagin), alkaloids, and lignans.
From lab studies of pomegranate compounds, scientists have verified that pomegranate has beneficial antioxidant, antidiabetic, antiobesity, anti-hypertensive, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Six Therapeutic Qualities of Pomegranate
1. Lowers Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress refers to the imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and antioxidant defenses.This imbalance is caused by environmental stressors (i.e., ultraviolet light, exposure to radiation, pollutants, pesticides, industrial chemicals, smoking, ozone, and heavy metals) and internal factors (nutrition, inflammation, lifestyle, conditions like dementia, cancer, diabetes, and chronic illnesses).
Accumulation of the reactive oxygen species (ROS) and oxidative damage has been linked to multiple pathologies, including neurodegenerative diseases, metabolic disorders, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, recovery from overexercise/injuries, skin diseases, and premature aging.
Pomegranate’s antioxidant superpower decreases oxidative stress, which helps to prevent and improve these oxidative-related diseases and subsequent symptoms.
2. Prevents Lifestyle Diseases and Lowers Complications
Lifestyle diseases are ailments that are primarily based on the day-to-day habits of people (such as being sedentary, smoking, an unhealthy diet, and alcohol abuse) and include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory illnesses, stroke, and cancer. Precursors can be high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, high levels of fat in the blood, high levels of stress, and obesity.
The antioxidant protection of pomegranate polyphenols helps prevent lifestyle-related diseases by reducing ROS and increasing antioxidant activity. A meta-analysis of eight studies regarding pomegranate juice consumption and high blood pressure showed significant reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure after taking pomegranate juice. Researchers recommend including this fruit juice in your heart-healthy diet.
Pomegranate proved itself a potent antioxidant in diabetes-induced oxidative stress and fibrosis in a study of rats and partially ameliorated erectile dysfunction, a symptom caused by diabetes.
Consumption of concentrated pomegranate juice (50 grams per day) had favorable effects on two markers of inflammation (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and IL6) and increased total antioxidant capacity by approximately 75 percent in a clinical study of 40 patients with Type 2 diabetes.
3. Reduces Cancer
Researchers found that pomegranate peel extract inhibited growth of prostate cancer cells, particularly in migration and invasion, which are two critical steps in prostate cancer metastasis. In a study of hamsters, pomegranate peel extract exhibited significant antioxidant activity in the lung fibroblasts by reducing ROS by 29 percent to 36 percent.
In human breast and colon cancer cells, pomegranate extract decreased cancer cell growth both in drug-sensitive cells by 15 percent to 30 percent and in drug-resistant (doxorubicin-resistant) cells by 5 percent to 20 percent. This indicates the potential usefulness of pomegranate extract in people exposed to oxidative stress and as a therapy for human cancers.
Compared to juice, the total phenolic content and free radical scavenging potential was significantly higher in the pomegranate extract enhanced in a lab compared to its two fractions (anthocyanins and copigments) and showed the highest radical scavenging activity against galvinoxyl and DPPH radicals, oxidative stress markers in human liver cancer.
Results indicated that anthocyanins and copigments act together synergistically in reducing oxidative stress. Pomegranate was shown to improve oxidative stress levels in a jaundice-induced animal model. Jaundice can be caused by hepatitis, gallstones, gallbladder cancer, and pancreatic tumors
Preliminary studies show that pomegranate supplementation could prevent breast cancer by reducing two sex hormones related to breast cancer risk in a study of 64 healthy postmenopausal women who were randomly assigned to drink eight ounces of either 100 percent commercial pomegranate juice (intervention) or apple juice (control) for three weeks; the intervention group showed significant declines in both estrone and testosterone levels.
A pomegranate emulsion containing various bioactive phytochemicals was found to exert substantial chemopreventive effect against induced mammary tumors in rats via antiproliferative and proapoptotic actions, which disrupted the estrogen hormone, signaling a possible breast cancer treatment for humans.
An oral capsule containing a blend of pomegranate, green tea, broccoli, and turmeric, or an identical placebo were tested for six months in 199 men with localized prostate cancer. The supplement group had 63 percent lower prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, a marker of progression of prostate cancer, compared to the control group. This is credited to the polyphenol content in the supplement.
In a comprehensive review of clinical trial studies, researchers confirmed that pomegranate plays a vital role in prevention and treatment of breast, prostate, lung, colon, skin, and liver cancers.
4. Boosts Recovery of Injuries After Exercise
Consumption of pomegranate juice over three weeks improved two oxidative stress markers and thus decreased the oxidative damage caused by exercise in a study of 30 high-endurance athletes.
In a study of 19 Polish athletes, supplementing with 50 milliliters of pomegranate juice daily for two months showed a significant strengthening of plasma antioxidant potential in the supplementing group measured by the increase of total antioxidant capacity and IL-6 levels.
Watermelon juice enriched with pomegranate and citrulline showed no increase in muscle damage and a significant maintenance of force during exercise and a significant decrease in the rating of perceived exertion and muscle soreness after exercise in 19 healthy men.
In a mice study, pomegranate red peel extract showed high antioxidant activity that significantly enhanced serum biochemical parameters and reduced oxidative stress. Scientists recommended pomegranate for a daily animal diet or as a beverage for humans to gain antioxidant protective effects and improve health.
Endurance running places substantial physiological strain on the body, which can develop into chronic inflammation and overuse injuries, but supplementation with pomegranate, curcumin, and methlysulfonylmethane (MSM) reduced systemic inflammation and oxidative stress without adverse side effects in 15 marathon runners.
5. Improves Skin and Premature Aging
In a review of current studies, researchers found that phenolic compounds in pomegranate may have a protective effect on skin exposed to high levels of air pollution. That effect includes increasing antioxidant activity by reducing harmful ROS related to oxidative stress and lowering inflammatory markers such as cytokines and chemokines in skin diseases and decreased premature skin aging caused by particles in the air.
In addition, pomegranate was shown to be beneficial for reducing harmful effects of solar UVB radiation on animal skin and ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) radiation on human skin. Daily oral pomegranate consumption (eight ounces of pomegranate juice or 1,000 milligrams of pomegranate extract) enhanced protection from UV photodamage in a study of 74 women.
6. Decreases Inflammation
In a meta-analysis of 16 randomized controlled trials involving 572 subjects, pomegranate supplementation significantly reduced inflammation biomarkers of hs-CRP, IL-6, and TNF-α compared to the placebo group.
High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) indicates your risk of developing coronary artery disease (narrowing of the heart’s arteries) and inflammation in your body. Coronary artery disease can lead to a heart attack. Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a protein that helps regulate immune responses and is used as a marker of immune system activation. IL-6 levels can be elevated with inflammation, infection, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and some cancers.
Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF- α) is a protein that contributes to inflammation as well. In healthy people, it’s an essential part of the immune system, helping the body mount attacks against invading bacteria and viruses and heal damaged tissues; in those having autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, excess levels of TNF- α in the blood can lead to unnecessary inflammation and chronic pain.
Brain inflammation is one of the leading factors in neurological disorders such as dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists have found evidence that pomegranate peel extract provides preventive and progressive benefits in neural diseases by positively affecting spatial memory and decreasing biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation in a mouse model of neurodegeneration.
In a placebo-controlled study of 261 non-demented individuals from 50 to 75 years old, daily consumption of pomegranate juice (230 milliliters) stabilized the treated group’s ability to learn visual information over a year.
A study of rats with aluminum chloride induced neurotoxicity showed that pomegranate peel extract could inhibit aluminum-induced oxidative stress and pathologies in the brain, possibly related to its anti-apoptotic and antioxidant abilities.
Super Abilities of Pomegranate
Scientists are increasingly interested in the therapeutic benefits of pomegranate on diabetes, stroke recovery, and clogged arteries. To learn more about pomegranate’s ability to improve your health, see GreenMedInfo.com’s database on pomegranate (the substance) and pomegranate peel.
Dr. Diane Fulton is Emeritus Professor at Clayton State University. She holds Ph.D./MBA in Business (University of Tennessee–Knoxville) and B.S. with Math/Secondary Education majors (University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee). During her 45-year career as administrator/professor teaching research and business, she authored 10 books, over 50 articles, and is now writing children’s books about the body, mindfulness, and cross-cultural awareness. Her passion is to share her knowledge to integrate a healthy body, mind, and soul.