It’s been heralded as the “jewel of winter.” It’s been revered for its leathery skin, odd little seeds and miraculous juice.
It’s been used medicinally in the Middle East, Iran, India, Egypt and Greece for thousands of years, and it’s become the sweetheart of bartenders and health practitioners alike across the United States.
It’s even been called the real forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden.
It’s the pomegranate, and this quirky little fruit has been the focus of medicinal debate for decades.
To help put the argument to rest, researchers from the University of Porto in Portugal set out to examine and explain the research surrounding the health benefits of pomegranate and its impact on disease.
Dissecting the Pomegranate
The pomegranate can be broken down into three main components: skin (or peel), seeds and juice. The skin accounts for two-thirds of the fruit’s weight, with the juice making up 30 percent and the seeds a mere 3 percent.
The main chemical (and arguably medicinal) components of the pomegranate include:
- Ellagic acid (antioxidant)
- Ellagitannins (polyphenol formed from ellagic acid and anti-viral properties)
- Punicalagins (polyphenol and antioxidant)
- Punic acid (anti-inflammatory)
- Anthocyanins (flavonoid and antioxidant)
- Flavonols (antioxidant)
- Flavones (antioxidant and anti-inflammatory)
Among the three main constituents of the pomegranate, the skin contains the highest antioxidant activity. However, the juice is often what is deemed to be of value. This is likely because the entire fruit (including the peel) is often used during the juice processing.
With all these amazing built-in health benefits, perhaps Hippocrates had the pomegranate in mind when he said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” In fact, it is believed that he used pomegranates for a variety of medical ailments.
And when it comes to antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits, he may have been on to something.
Pomegranate’s Antioxidant Power
Free radical damage has been linked to everything from heart health and diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. And one key way to prevent or offset free radical damage is with antioxidants.
As we mentioned before, pomegranates have been shown to have great antioxidant capabilities in their juice, seeds and skin. However, the majority of studies have concentrated on pomegranate juice.
One study found that the juice reduced platelet aggregation (risk for blood clots), reduced clogging tendencies of LDL cholesterol, and reduced oxidation, while another study found that the juice reduced oxidation in diabetic rats.
In fact, pomegranate juice has been found to have even more antioxidant capacity than red wine and green tea.
The seed oils found in pomegranates have also been shown to possess antioxidant benefits similar to green tea and significantly greater than red wine. But nothing beats the pomegranate skin when it comes to antioxidant benefits, due in large part to its phenolic properties.
In fact, the skin has greater phenolic weight than the seeds and greater antioxidant activity than the juice. However, since so many commercial processing plants pull in some of the peel during juicing, many commercial pomegranate juice products offer the benefits of the juice and skin in one package.
And the health benefits of pomegranate don’t end there…
Inflammation and Cancer
Pomegranate also appears to reduce inflammation. It does this through four paths:
1. Inhibits the COX-2 enzyme (which promotes pain and inflammation)
2. Suppresses inflammatory cytokine expression (proteins secreted by cells in the immune system)
3. Inhibits matrix metalloproteinases (chemicals that direct a cell in how to behave, grow, mutate, differentiate, die, etc.)
4. Suppresses activation of nuclear factor kappa B (leads to cell proliferation and inflammation)
And in many ways, the same ways pomegranate helps to reduce inflammation also mark it as a potential anti-cancer tool. For example, one study shows that pomegranate seed oil and fermented juice inhibited breast cancer cell proliferation and promoted cell death of breast cancer cells.
A second study supports these results by also finding that in both lab and animal studies, pomegranate fruit extract demonstrated the ability to inhibit cancer cell proliferation while simultaneously promoting cancer cell death.
Get Your Pomegranate Today
Researchers also found that whether you are talking about the juice, seeds, seed oil or even extract, there does not appear to be any concern with toxicity or even side effects. So go ahead and revel in this jewel of winter.
Given the benefits of so many parts of the pomegranate, why not experiment a bit with all of them. You can enjoy a glass of juice, toss the seeds into a salad, or mix one cup sparkling mineral water with 2 tablespoons pomegranate extract. Serve over ice in a wine glass for a delicious, non-alcoholic nightcap.
Whether you choose the juice, the extract, the seeds or the fruit itself, your heart will thank you, your body will thank you, and there’s no question that your taste buds will thank you!
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