Affectionately known as the 'jewel of winter,' the pomegranate is receiving growing acclamation for its disease-fighting abilities, largely due to its staggering antioxidant potency. Traditional medicines of the Middle East and India have used the pomegranate for centuries - leaves, skin and rind included - to cure everything from conjunctivitis and sore throats to baldness and hemorrhoids.
This mystical fruit, a symbol of birth, death and eternal life owing to its brimming seeds and blood-like juice, is steeped in mythology. The prophet Mohammed encouraged his followers to eat the fruit to purge their systems of envy and hatred. In the tales of Ancient Greece, Persephone, daughter of Demeter the goddess of agriculture, was offered this fruit by Hades, god of the underworld. In succumbing to the temptation she condemned herself to spend time each year with Hades in the underworld. To modern day Greeks the pomegranate is often a feature at weddings to symbolize fertility, and in China, a sugared version of the pomegranate seed is eaten on the wedding day to bless newlyweds.
The juicy, tangy flesh of the fruit's ruby seeds is delicious and every bit worth the patience required to extract them from their pith. Today you can readily buy pomegranate juice such as pomwonderful or pomegreat from general and health food stores. The soaring sales of pomegranate juice in the UK reflects the growing popularity of this fruit, with RJA Foods reporting a sale increase of their Pomegreat brand from 50,000 to 500,000 litres per month in 2005.
Pomegranates are a superfood hugely beneficial to the heart, and by neutralising damaging free-radicals prevent the oxidation of bad LDL cholesterol that is associated with plaque build up in blood vessel walls. Pomegranate juice has also been shown to preserve nitric oxide in the body, a key chemical responsible for regulating blood flow and maintaining blood vessel health.
One study on 19 elderly people with atherosclerosis, where plaque was already built-up to a dangerous level, found that drinking just 8 oz. of 100 per cent pure pomegranate juice a day for a one year period decreased the thickness of the lining in their arteries by 30 per cent, where controls experienced an actual rise of 9 per cent. Further more, those who drank the pomegranate juice also had a 21 per cent decrease in blood pressure (Aviram et al. 2004; Clinical Nutrition). Pomegranate juice also decreases the activity of an enzyme in the body known as ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) that can lead to high blood pressure resulting in atherosclerosis.
Research at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology led by Dr. Ephraim Lansky (2001) found that pomegranate seed oil triggered cell death (apotosis) in breast cancer cells. A recent study at the University of Wisconsin Medical School (2005) also revealed anti-cancer effects, discovering pomegranate juice to killed human prostate cancer cells in laboratory tests and significantly slowed the progression of prostate cancer in mice (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
Aid for Arthritis
Researchers from the Case Western Reserve University found that extract of pomegranate inhibited the stimulation of certain enzymes that contribute to the cartilage degradation in osteoarthritis, a condition that currently lacks perspective for treatment. This is reassuring when one considers the vast and growing numbers of those who suffer from the disease.
As well as heart-health, anti-cancer, and arthritic protection, pomegranates offer all-round protection against aging and disease due to their antioxidant potency. Studies suggest pomegranate juice may contain almost three times the antioxidant power of green tea and red wine due to their content of flavonoids. They also provide substantial amounts of potassium, iron, folic acid and vitamin C, as well as vitamins A and E, niacin, and fibre.