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Pomegranate Is A Pharmacy Unto Itself

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Pomegranate fruit

Photo: Pomegranate fruit

Pomegranate is definitely one of my all-time favorite fruits, next to bananas and pineapples. It is amazing to have found out all the medical properties that pomegranate has. Some believe that Eve didn’t give Adam an apple, but a pomegranate fruit to eat.

The word Pomegranate is derived from the Middle French term; Pomme Garnete which in rough translation means “seeded apple” which fits this unusual fruit that many people are surprised upon opening to find not a whole substance of edible fruit by many lovely little seeds that resemble tiny grapes.

I share with you what I’ve found so far. Feel free to leave a comment.

Origins and Historical use
Folk Medicine
Culinary uses
Health benefits
Negative effects / allergies

Origins and Historical use

The pomegranate, a Persian native, is one of the oldest fruits known to man. Mankind has revered the magical, mystical pomegranate since the dawn of recorded history. Most experts agree that the pomegranate first appeared in Persia around 4000BC, and then slowly migrated to India, Northern Africa, Mediterranean, China, Europe and the Americas. Ancient Greeks, Romans, and the people of China, India and the Middle East found its properties to be life-giving and invigorating.

In fact, they loved it so much they incorporated the delicate flowers, the sparkling ruby seeds, the tangy rind, into their foods, their medicines, their cosmetics and their sacred practices, for nearly 6,000 years. As befits a fruit with many seeds, the pomegranate is the traditional representation of fertility. Traditionally, ancient Egyptians regarded the pomegranate as an aphrodisiac and they made wine and liqueur from the juice. In Armenia, the pomegranate fruit is a symbol representing marriage and abundance. The fruit has often been seen depicted in drawings and mentioned in historical writings as a powerful fruit with amazing health benefits, including increased fertility, fighting against the natural aging process, and protecting people from diseases.

Indian royalty began their banquets with pomegranate, grape, and jujube. Perhaps due to the fruit’s princely blossom crown, it has gained distinction as a royal fruit. The Chinese believed the pomegranate promotes longevity and fertility, and is used extensively in traditional Chinese medicine. Ancient Romans not only enjoyed the succulent flesh of this fruit, but due to the high amount of tannic acid in the skins, they also used the skins in the process of tanning leather. The pomegranate flowers are also used to make a red dye. Pomegranate is used in Jewish ceremonials.

Folk Medicine

Containing higher antioxidant content than red wine or green tea, pomegranates have been used in folk medicine for centuries in the Middle East, India, and China, and it has been used to treat ailments ranging from inflammation and rheumatism to the pain of a simple sore throat. Symbolic of eternal life in ancient Egyptian society, pomegranates were a valued food used to fight intestinal worms and other ailments in many cultures around the world. According to one account, the alkaloids contained in the root, tree bark, and to a lesser extent, fruit rind, cause the “tapeworm to relax its grip on the wall of the intestine” thus allowing the weakened parasites to be easily expelled by a second herbal drug, one which is cathartic. The second major property of pomegranate hulls exploited in folk medicine is their strong astringency, making them a popular remedy throughout the world, in the form of an aqueous decoction (boiled hulls in water), for dysentery, diarrhea, and also for stomatitis. Another well known use of the decoction is as a mouthwash, douche or enema.

In Ayurvedic medicine pomegranate is considered “a pharmacy unto itself” and is used as an anti-parasitic agent, a blood tonic, and to heal aphthae, diarrhea, and ulcers. The dried and powdered peel of the fruit was used as a remedy for hyper-acidity, diarrhea and low appetite. The powdered peel mixed with salt was used as a tooth powder, and for treating throat and other oral afflictions. Pomegranate juice was used as a relief in urinary disorders, and for washing wounds and ulcers. Pomegranate also serves as a remedy for diabetes in the Unani system of medicine practiced in the Middle East and India. The fruit was found beneficial for dry coughs and to lower fever, and was also used to treat burns, snakebites and eye-drops to slow the development of cataract.

Culinary uses

Pomegranate seeds are very small but they are used in innumerable ways in cooking. Pomegranate dishes are quiet popular in Middle Eastern cuisines, and also in Mediterranean and Indian cuisine. The most popular use of pomegranate seeds is to extract juice that can be used in several ways. Pomegranate juice can be taken independently as a drink. It is also used widely in making cocktails and mocktails. Pomegranate juice is used for the production of grenadine. Pomegranate juice is little sour in taste, hence it is fondly used as a substitute of tomato in various recipes.

Pomegranate dishes also include soups and stews. Another most common use of pomegranate seeds is to dry and grind them to make “anardana powder”, a spice widely used to give an acidic taste to curries, chutney and sauces. Spreads, dips and jams are some other pomegranate recipes that are well-liked in global cuisine. Various salad dressings and meat marinades include pomegranate sauce, whereas the red fleshy seeds are commonly used as a garnish in salads and puddings. The preferred methods of making Pomegranate dishes are boiled (soups), garnished (desserts), extracted (juices), dressed (salads), marinated (marinades) or glazed (syrups). Pomegranates can be enjoyed as an appetizer, entrée or desert anytime, anywhere!

Health benefits

Apart from its use in folk medicine for centuries in the Middle East, Indian and China, scientists also have long studied the complex pomegranate and have experimented with the unique compounds found in its fruit, leaves and flowers. Pomegranate juice provides about 16% of an adult’s daily vitamin C requirement per 100 ml serving, and is a good source of vitamin B5. The pomegranate provides a substantial amount of potassium, is high in fiber, and contains powerfully beneficial sustances – antioxidant polyphenols, such as tannins and flavonoids; natural phytoestrogens; ascorbic, citric, fumaric, gallic and malic acids; essential amino acids; and numerous piperidine alkaloids.

Pomegranate juice is rich in anthocyanins, glucose, ascorbic acid, ellagic acid, gallic acid, caffeic acid, catechin, EGCG, quercetin, rutin, amino acids and minerals like iron, while its seed are the source of fiber and unsaturated oil that contains punicic acid, ellagic acid. Pomegranate leaves are rich in tannins and flavone glycosides, and the flower contains gallic acid and triterpenoids. Its root, bark, and pericarp (peel, rind) are also rich in gallic acid, catechin, EGCG, flavonones, ellagitannins and numerous piperidine alkaloids.

Due to its rich nutrients and phytochemicals, pomegranates are believed to be effective in combating cancer, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, heart attack, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis and preventing hardening of arteries (atherosclerosis), conditions of the digestive tract, including diarrhea, dysentery, and tapeworm and other intestinal parasites, and for improving the body’s resistance to flu, swelling of the lining of the mouth (stomatitis), gum disease, erectile dysfunction, diabetes and a complication called acidosis. It is also believed to help with obesity, and weight loss.


Though pomegranate’s wide-ranging therapeutic benefits may be attributable to several mechanisms, most research has focused on its antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Antioxidant mechanisms:2 An in vitro assay using four separate testing methods demonstrated pomegranate juice and seed extracts have 2-3 times the antioxidant capacity of either red wine or green tea. Pomegranate extracts were shown to scavenge free radicals and decrease macrophage oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation in animals and increase plasma antioxidant capacity in elderly humans. Research conducted by Michael Aviram of the Lipid Research Laboratory at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has revealed the antioxidant properties of the fruit. Preliminary studies indicated the juice may possess almost 3 times the total antioxidant ability of green tea or red wine. The ORAC (antioxidant capacity) of pomegranate juice was measured at 2,860 units per 100 grams.

Anticarcinogenic mechanisms:3 In vitro assays utilizing three prostate cancer cell lines (DU-145, LNCaP, and PC-3) demonstrated various pomegranate extracts (juice, seed oil, peel) potently inhibit prostate cancer cell invasiveness and proliferation, cause cell cycle disruption, induce apoptosis, and inhibit tumor growth. These studies also demonstrated combinations of pomegranate extracts from different parts of the fruit were more effective than any single extract.

Several animal studies have elucidated pomegranate’s potential anticancer mechanisms. Two studies in mice implanted with the prostate cancer PC-3 cell line demonstrated pomegranate fruit extract (PFE; edible parts of the fruit, excluding the peel) inhibits cell growth and induces apoptosis via modulation of proteins regulating apoptosis. In an open-label, phase II clinical trial in 46 men with recurrent prostate cancer, 16 patients (35%) showed a significant decrease in serum prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels (average=27%) during treatment with eight ounces of pomegranate juice.

Corresponding in vitro assays using patient plasma and serum demonstrated significant decreases in prostate cancer cell line proliferation and increased apoptosis. Nitric oxide preservation via ingestion of pomegranate polyphenols significantly correlated with lower PSA values. These results indicate pomegranate may affect prostate cancer because of antiproliferative, apoptotic, antioxidant, and possibly anti-inflammatory effects. Recent research also indicates pomegranate constituents inhibit angiogenesis via down-regulation of vascular endothelial growth factor in MCF-7 breast cancer and human umbilical vein endothelial cell lines.

Anti-inflammatory Mechanisms: Cold pressed pomegranate seed oil has been shown to inhibit both cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase enzymes in vitro. Cyclooxygenase, a key enzyme in the conversionof arachidonic acid to prostaglandins (important inflammatory mediators), was inhibited by 37 percent by a CPSO extract. Lipoxygenase, which catalyzes the conversion of arachidonic acid to leukotrienes, also key mediators of inflammation, was inhibited by 75 percent by a CPSO extract. By comparison, an FPJ extract resulted in a 23.8-percent inhibition of lipoxygenase in vitro.

Another in vitro study that may have far-reaching implications for those suffering from osteoarthritis (OA) demonstrated PFE has a significant and broad inhibitory effect on matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), a subgroup of collagenase enzymes expressed in high levels in arthritic joints and involved in the turnover, degradation, and catabolism of extracellular joint matrix. The suppression of MMP expression in OA chondrocyte cultures by PFE suggests pomegranate constituents prevent collagen degradation and may inhibit joint destruction in OA patients.

Other mechanisms: A pilot study in type 2 diabetic patients with hyperlipidemia found concentrated pomegranate juice decreased cholesterol absorption, increased fecal excretion of cholesterol, had a beneficial effect on enzymes involved in cholesterol metabolism, significantly reduced total and LDL cholesterol, and improved total/HDL and LDL/HDL cholesterol ratios. Pomegranate juice consumption by hypertensive patients inhibits serum angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE; a catalyst for the conversion of angiotensin I to angiotensin II, a potent vasoconstrictor) activity, thereby reducing systolic blood pressure and potentially protecting against cardiovascular disease.

Animal studies have revealed three possible hypoglycemic mechanisms for Pomegranate extracts. Pomegranate flower extract (PFLE) improved insulin sensitivity and lowered glucose levels in rats as early as 30 minutes post-glucose loading. PFLE also inhibited alphaglucosidase in vitro, thereby decreasing the conversion of sucrose to glucose. PPE demonstrates significant hypoglycemic activity in diabetic rats, via enhanced insulin levels and regeneration of pancreatic beta cells. Numerous in vitro studies and two human trials demonstrate the antimicrobial activity of pomegranate extracts. The growth of Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, Diplococcus pneumoniae, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Candida albicans was inhibited via direct bacteriocidal or fungicidal activity.

PFLE (400 or 800 mg/kg/day) given to obese hyperlipidemic mice for five weeks caused significant decreases in body weight, percentage of adipose pad weights, energy intake, and serum cholesterol, triglyceride, glucose, and total cholesterol/HDL ratios. Decreased appetite and intestinal fat absorption were also observed, improvements mediated in part by inhibition of pancreatic lipase activity.

Research in rats demonstrates pomegranate consumption improves epididymal sperm concentration, spermatogenic cell density, diameter of seminiferous tubules, and sperm motility, and decreases the number of abnormal sperm compared to control animals. An improvement in antioxidant enzyme activity in both rat plasma and sperm was also noted.

The neuroprotective properties of pomegranate polyphenols were evaluated in an animal model of Alzheimer’s disease. Transgenic mice with Alzheimer’s like pathology treated with PJ had 50-percent less accumulation of soluble amyloid-beta and less hippocampal amyloid deposition than mice consuming sugar water, suggesting PJ may be neuroprotective. Animals also exhibited improved learning of water maze tasks and swam faster than control animals.

Negative effects / allergies

Based on pomegranate’s current popularity and research suggesting its therapeutic benefit in cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases treated with prescription medications, it has been of interest to determine whether pomegranate extracts have any effect on cytochrome P450-3A, the hepatic enzyme system responsible for metabolism of many prescription medications. A randomized, single-dose, crossover study in 13 healthy human volunteers demonstrated pomegranate juice pre-treatment did not affect elimination half-life or distribution of intravenous midazolam, nor did it affect the Cmax or clearance of oral midazolam. This human study contradicts a rat study showing PJ has an inhibitory effect on carbamazepine pharmacokinetics, an anticonvulsant medication also metabolized by cytochrome P450- 3A.

Pomegranate juice is likely safe for most people. Most people do not experience side effects. Some people can have allergic reactions to pomegranate fruit. When applied to the skin or gum, pomegranate is rated possible safe. Some people have experienced sensitivity to pomegranate including itching, swelling, runny nose, and difficulty breathing. Pomegranate is possibly unsafe when the root and stems are taken by mouth, as it contains a poison.

Special precautions and warnings: Pomegranate juice is possibly safe for pregnant and breast-feeding women. But it is not known if other forms of pomegranate, such as pomegranate extract, are safe. People with plant allergies seem to be more likely to have an allergic reaction to pomegranate. Pomegranate might affect blood pressure. This might interfere with blood pressure control during and after surgery. Stop taking pomegranate at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.


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