Steeped in history and romance, pomegranate is native to the mountainous region that includes northern Iraq and northwest Iran. Sumerian cuneiform records reveal that pomegranates have been cultivated in the Middle East since approximately 3000 B.C. For many centuries desert caravans carried the thick-walled fruits as a source of nutritious, thirst-quenching juice. In Egyptian art and mythology, the pomegranate symbolized abundance and unity. In early Christian, Jewish, and Islamic artistic traditions, the fruit represented blood, death, and the renewal of life. According to Greek mythology, Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter, makes the mistake of eating pomegranate seeds in the underworld, and so is eternally bound to that place for part of every year. The Romans named the fruit Punica granatum, or “seeds from Carthage,” possibly because that Phoenician city in North Africa was a source of fine pomegranates in the ancient world.
The luscious pomegranate has been cherished as food and medicine for at least 4 millennia. Compared with other common fruit juices, pomegranate is one of the richest in antioxidant activity, with roughly 3 times that of red wine and green tea! Animal studies show that pomegranate juice and pomegranate flower extract offer strong protection against the progression of atherosclerosis. Studies on humans demonstrate a modest effect on blood pressure and inflammation reduction—reasons for adding pomegranate to a heart-healthy foods list.
One of the most interesting areas of pomegranate research is prostate health. Laboratory and animal studies have shown that the fruit’s juice, peel, and oil all interfere with the spread of prostate cancer tumors. A 2-year study examined the effect of 8 ounces of pomegranate juice on prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in 46 men who had received surgery or radiation therapy for prostate cancer. PSA levels are used as a marker after cancer treatment to determine if the cancer has returned. Treatments are deemed effective if they reduce PSA levels in prostate cancer patients and/or prolong the time it takes for the PSA level to double (indicating that progression of the cancer is slowing). Sixteen of 46 patients (35 percent) exhibited a decline in their PSA levels during treatment, while 4 of the 46 patients (2 percent) achieved a PSA decline of more than 50 percent. Overall, PSA doubling time was significantly delayed in a majority of the men drinking the juice. After the 2-year study, those who continued to drink pomegranate juice had lower PSA levels than those who stopped. At the conclusion of the study, the mean PSA doubling time went from 15 to 54 months, with no adverse events reported.
In men, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. Seven government-funded studies are currently evaluating pomegranate’s role in treating prostate cancer.
How to Use
Juice: 8 ounces per day (the typical amount used in research studies).
Capsules: Generally, 2 to 3 g per day of powdered pomegranate capsules.
There are no known safety issues with drinking pomegranate juice or with using pomegranate juice extracts.