The health benefits of pomegranate juice and extract have been hotly debated. Late last year the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a lawsuit against the makers of the juice POM Wonderful for broad claims that the juice helped with the treatment of different diseases such as prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, and heart disease. The FTC said that the studies that were done to back up POM’s advertising claims were based on poor research and did not prove those claims to a scientifically acceptable level. The FTC’s suit also extended to the POMx pomegranate extract pills made by the same company.
POMx has recently been in the news again however, with a new study showing that the extract pills may provide benefits in slowing the progression of prostate cancer. The study looked at the rise of PSA levels in 92 men who had cancer confined to the prostate. The men were divided up into two groups, one of which received 1g of extract and 2 placebo pills, and the other receiving 3g of extract.
PSA, which stands for prostate-specific antigen, is one of the key indicators that we can use to track the progression of prostate cancer. We normally watch PSA levels to see the rate at which they double. In this study it was found that PSA levels rose more slowly than what would be expected in both groups. There was little variation between them showing no additional benefit to receiving 3g of extract over 1g.
The slower progression of PSA levels sounds like great news on the surface, but a key aspect was missing from this study – there was no control group. No group was given just a placebo, making the results of this study questionable. Also, a slower progression of PSA levels does not necessarily guarantee a better outcome for the patient.
More accurate and better controlled studies would need to be done to see the effects of pomegranate extract versus a control group. We would then have to look at the long-term outcomes for those patients in order to determine whether this is an effective treatment option and not just marketing hype.