Pomegranates – Protector of your health

Pomegranates – Protector of your health

Right about now, there’s an extraordinarily nutritious fruit you may be overlooking. And it’s not the usual apples, oranges or bananas.  While all fruits are good for us, the “jewel of the winter,” better known as pomegranates, are a true protector of your health.  Usually in season from October through February, pomegranates have an outstanding nutritional portfolio making it a true nutritional gem and are one of the world’s most popular fruits.

Overview of pomegranates

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Pomegranates have a lengthy and rich history dating back to biblical times with even a mention in the Old Testament and were often used for medicinal purposes.  Believed to have originated in Iran, pomegranate trees do well in hot, dry climates such as California, Afghanistan, India, Israel, Spain and in parts of the Mediterranean.  The name pomegranate, comes from the Latin words ‘pomum” (apple) and “granatum” (seeded) literally meaning “seeded apple.”  Pomegranates have a botanical name of “Punica Granatum” which translates as “apple with many seeds.”  The average pomegranate contains about 600 seeds known as arils.  Arils are the only edible part of a pomegranate along with pomegranate juice, which is obtained by squeezing the whole fruit.

Nutritional profile of pomegranates

If you’ve never eaten the arils of a pomegranate, you really must try them.  The tart yet sweet taste is an enjoyable combination and with their unique blend of phytochemicals, pomegranates should be a fruit eaten frequently.  Here is a nutritional profile of pomegranate arils and juice:

4 ounces of pomegranate seeds or arils:                              1 cup or 8 oz. of pomegranate juice:

Calories – 100                                                                                          134

Fat – 1 gram                                                                                                 0 grams

Saturated and Trans fat – 0 grams                                                               0 grams

Fiber – 7 grams                                                                                         0.2 milligrams

Vitamin C – 14 milligrams                                                                       0.2 milligrams

Vitamin K – 23 micrograms                                                                   25.9 micrograms

Potassium – 333 milligrams                                                                    533 milligrams 

Pomegranates impressive nutritional power

What makes pomegranates such a nutritional powerhouse is their generous abundance of plant chemicals – a total of 124 - also called phytochemicals or polyphenols.  The polyphenols found in pomegranates – flavonoids, quercetin, ellagitannins, and anthocyanins - help decrease oxidation in the body protecting cells from free radicals while reducing inflammation and may have anti-aging effects. 

Two major health conditions pomegranates may have a positive effect on are prostate cancer and heart disease.  Here’s how pomegranates and its juice, appear to have promising health benefits:

·      Prostate Cancer – Studies have mainly focused on the use of pomegranate juice and its ability to inhibit the growth of tumors in the prostate, breast, colon, and lung.  However, the most impressive data has been with prostate cancer. 

With prostate cancer being the second leading cause of death of American men, research has looked for less toxic alternative treatments for this disease that is estimated by the American Cancer Society to have 233,000 newly diagnosed cases with 29,480 men who will die from it.  This is where “nature’s power fruit” comes into play.  Because of its strong antioxidant (higher than even red wine and green tea) anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumorigenic properties, pomegranates and pomegranate juice seem to have valuable potential to prevent the development and progression of prostate cancer.  

Preliminary recent research has shown pomegranate juice may decrease the progression of prostate cancer.  One study demonstrated drinking pomegranate juice extract significantly reduced the rate rising prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels which possibly indicated the cancer was progressing more slowly.  Another study found if men drank 8 ounces of pomegranate juice daily, the time it took for their PSA to double was significantly longer. 

The fruit of pomegranates are rich in the polyphenol ellagitannins.  Once ingested, the elligitanins are metabolized to the active form of ellagic acid in the gut flora.  This prohibits the development of new blood vessels in prostate cancer and induces apoptosis or the death of those cells.  At this time, the results are encouraging and men can enjoy pomegranates possible health benefits.  Be sure to consult with your physician before using pomegranate juice as it may interfere with cancer medications making them less effective.

·      Heart Disease

Heart or cardiovascular disease (CVD) continues to be the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States.  It is well-known food choices play a huge role in preventing CVD but more attention is being paid to the role of plant-based phytochemicals with the cardioprotective effects of pomegranates blazing the trail.   

When compared to other commonly consumed fruit juices like grape, orange, cranberry or grapefruit, pomegranates have a significantly higher level of antioxidants and is considered the most heart healthy fruit juice.  The starring role for this again belongs to the polyphenol ellagitannins along with anthocyanins.  Ninety-two percent of the antioxidant activity of pomegranate juice is due to ellagitannins.  It appears the main mechanism of action of pomegranate juice in reducing risk of CVD include the following: increased serum antioxidant capacity, decreased plasma lipids, enhanced actions of nitric oxide, decreased inflammation, and decreased systolic blood pressure. 

Consuming one to two cups daily of pomegranate juice or even eating the arils of pomegranates, seem to show promise in having a beneficial effect on CVD.

Pomegranates possible interaction with prescription medications

Pomegranates diverse nutritional resume makes it a unique fruit to add to your dietary routine.  Drinking one to two cups a day of pomegranate juice is considered safe.

Pomegranate juice, like grapefruit juice however, may interact with several medications.  Always consult with your physician on their advice on drinking pomegranate juice. Some medications that can be affected by pomegranate juice include:

·      ACE inhibitors – Pomegranate juice may have the same effects as ACE inhibitors possibly making the drug too strong. 

·      Blood pressure medications – Blood pressure may be lowered by pomegranate juice which if you’re already taking a blood pressure medication, it could increase the risk of causing a too low blood pressure.

·      Statins used to lower cholesterol – Pomegranate juice contains substances that may inhibit liver enzymes possibly causing statin medications to accumulate in the body increasing the risk of serious side effects.  One such risk is of a condition called rhabdomyolysis, a condition that breaks down muscle tissue and leads to kidney damage. 

·      Warfarin (Coumadin) – Pomegranate juice has a good amount of vitamin K that may interact with warfarin increasing the risk of bleeding. 

Use pomegranates to boost your health

The power of pomegranates can make a positive impact on your health.  Choosing this unique fruit as a mainstay of your diet will help you achieve the many health benefits pomegranates possess.