Pomegranates have been listed as a superfood, and rightfully so. The seedy, red berry contains an assortment of beneficial phytochemicals rarely found in other foods. For centuries, cultures have believed the peculiar fruit contains mythical powers. Many societies and religions have placed its significance in context. Ancient Persians, for example, believed that the fruit Eve passed to Adam was the Pomegranate, the fruit of knowledge. In Egypt, mummies were buried alongside pomegranates as a symbol of eternal life. The Ayurveda medicine system of India, whose practices involve “life-knowledge” treatments, believe the fruit can balance all three humors of the body. The fruit is said to be tridoshic- for all three dosha: vata, pitta and kapha. It is therefore suitable for use by nearly everyone. Other cultures believe it is a symbol of good tidings and luck. Research on the actual health benefits of this wonder fruit have yielded incredible results. Today’s post discusses the health benefits of the pomegranate.
The health benefits of Pomegranate
Pomegranates contain a variety of phytochemicals known as Polyphenols that are known to fight free radicals, promoting cell health. Polyphenols present in the seeds and pulp of the fruit include ellagic acid, punicalagins and punicic acid. Punicalagins are so potent that their antioxidant properties are deemed to be about thrice those of green tea and red wine (Yang, et al, 2006). These antioxidants also prevent the oxidization of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, deemed ‘bad’ cholesterol. Oxidation of LDL cholesterol always results in arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Polyphenols in pomegranates thus ensure a better quality of life by promoting vascular function while counteracting cell damage arising from oxidation.
Improved Cardiovascular Health
Besides preventing arteriosclerosis arising from oxidation of cholesterol, pomegranate boasts other features that improve blood flow and promote better heart health. Pomegranate juice and seeds also help our arteries by stopping buildup of oxidized fats and cell debris in the innermost layers of the artery (Stowe, 2011). The intima-media are linings of the artery that lie closest to the lumen, where blood passes. Studies have shown that taking pomegranates clears the deposits in these layers, thus leaving a larger opening for blood to pass through. In patients with Carotid Artery Stenosis (blockage), taking pomegranate extract daily results in a 30 percent reduction in atherosclerotic plaque. Fatty acids found in the fruit, such as punicic acid inhibit several stages of development for cardiovascular disease. Thus, the fruit intervenes against various risk factors for heart disease, such as cholesterol profile and artery blockage.
Pomegranate Prevents the Development of Various Forms of Cancer
Although data from studies is inconclusive, experts believe that ellagic acid present in pomegranates could regulate cancer, particularly of the breast and prostate. Metabolic byproducts of ellagic acid are known to inhibit the aromatase enzyme (Lansky & Newman, 2007). Aromatase enables the conversion of androstenedione and estrone to estrogen. High estrogen levels promote the spread and growth of various types of breast cancer. Thus, the red berry could be used to prevent and treat breast cancer. Laboratory studies also found out that ellagitannins (the products of breaking down ellagic acid) induce cell death and slow down reproduction of cancer cells. Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) marks development of prostate cancer in men. An increase in PSA means a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. Consuming pomegranates slows down the rise in PSA levels, thus preventing the development and consequent infection of prostate cancer.
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Improved Memory and Brain Function
MRI scans in a study that compared subjects administered with pomegranate juice daily against a control group showed a significant improvement in memory tests. Blood draws also showed an increased blood flow towards critical task related areas within the brain. The fruit contains high concentrations of folic acid and vitamin B5, which improve brain function by dissociating long chain amino acids (Hartman, 2013). Pomegranate is also a promising candidate in delaying the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Punicalagins are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Dementia and Alzheimer’s normally arise from the inflammation of brain cells known as microglia. For patients undergoing heart surgery, taking pomegranate supplements helps prevent memory dysfunction after the operation.
Pomegranates are considered a superfood, and they are loaded with various vitamins and minerals to prove (Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 2006). Their seeds, known as arils, are the edible part. From a 174 gram cup of arils, you will obtain:
3 grams of protein.
7 grams of fiber.
30% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C.
36 % the recommended daily intake of Vitamin K.
16% of the RDA of folate.
12% the RDA of Potassium.
Arils are a healthy substitute for sugar, as they are sweet with a very low calorific value. One cup of arils contains 24 grams of sugar and 144 calories.
- Anti-inflammatory properties help combat illnesses associated with inflammation, such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis and obesity.
- Pomegranates also help with erectile dysfunction by ensuring steady blood flow toward the erectile tissue.
- Phytochemicals present in pomegranates also help fight bacterial and fungal infections such as gingivitis, periodontitis and yeast infections.
- Ellagic acid, known for its antioxidant properties, helps the liver in cleansing out toxic metals, bacteria and viruses, resolting in a healthier life.
Today we have explored the various health benefits of pomegranates. You can enjoy the berry either by eating its arils, spreading the seeds in salads or extracting the juice to reap its benefits.
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- Li, Y., Guo, C., Yang, J., Wei, J., Xu, J., & Cheng, S. (2006). Evaluation of antioxidant properties of pomegranate peel extract in comparison with pomegranate pulp extract. Food chemistry, 96(2), 254-260.
- Stowe, C. B. (2011). The effects of pomegranate juice consumption on blood pressure and cardiovascular health. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 17(2), 113-115.
- Lansky, E. P., & Newman, R. A. (2007). Punica granatum (pomegranate) and its potential for prevention and treatment of inflammation and cancer. Journal of ethno pharmacology, 109(2), 177-206.
- Ropacki, S. A., Patel, S. M., & Hartman, R. E. (2013). Pomegranate supplementation protects against memory dysfunction after heart surgery: A pilot study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013.
- Mertens-Talcott, S. U., Jilma-Stohlawetz, P., Rios, J., Hingorani, L., & Derendorf, H. (2006). Absorption, metabolism, and antioxidant effects of pomegranate (Punica granatum L.) polyphenols after ingestion of a standardized extract in healthy human volunteers. Journal of agricultural and food chemis