History of the Pomegranate
The pomegranate, originally native to Iran and Western Asia, is one of the oldest cultivated fruits along with olives and grapes being grown by man from the third or fourth millennia B.C. Throughout history the pomegranate spread both West through Italy to Spain and subsequently the Americas and also East along the Spice Road to Southern Asia. Everywhere the pomegranate grew, it consistently became engrained in the local culture and symbolism associated with life and health of the local people. Despite not having the benefits of modern scientific methods, all of these cultures, from Judaism to Ayurvedic medicine in India, recognised and used the health giving properties of the pomegranate. It is only in the past couple of decades that we have started to understand the science behind the folklore and it proves interesting reading that may back up the symbolism of health and life that has surrounded the fruit for thousands of years.
High in Antioxidants
Pomegranate juice have been shown, by a UCLA study in 2008, to have the highest concentrations of antioxidants of any tested beverage, beating green tea, red wine and acai berry juice. With very high levels of anthocyanins and other polyphenol compounds associated with mopping up free radicals, the pomegranate begins to reveal where its health giving properties may come from. Free radical damage or oxidative stress is associated with many conditions that affect modern man, from arteriosclerosis, the clogging of the arteries causing strokes and heart attacks through to neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease as well as being linked to the underlying causes of ageing itself. We discuss three studies below.
Scientific studies on Pomegranate
In 2000, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the results of a trial to determine whether supplementing the diet with nutrients rich in antioxidants, such as pomegranate juice, is associated with reducing the level of oxidised LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and potentially reversing the effects of atherosclerosis. The trial successfully demonstrated a reduction in the aggregation and retention of LDL cholesterol in humans and concluded that pomegranate juice had potent antiatherogenic effects in healthy humans.
A study published in the American Journal of the College of Cardiology, Sept. 2005 tested the effect of pomegranate juice on forty five patients with stable coronary disease. Pomegranate juice, as noted by the UCLA study, has some of the highest levels of polyphenol antioxidants of any juice and was perfect for the test of patients drinking 240ml every day for three months compared to a control group. The test group showed an improvement in their condition relative to the control, which on average worsened over the three months, indicating that antioxidants and certainly pomegranate juice have a beneficial effect on this type of heart disease.
In 2004, a study published in the Clinical Nutrition journal, studied the effect of pomegranate juice consumption over a three year period by patients with carotid artery stenosis. It tested the effect on the long term use of consumption of polyphenolic antioxidants, which the pomegranate is rich in along with tannins and anthocyanins, on the carotid intima-media thickness of their artery. Those in the control group saw it increase by up to 90% without the juice but those drinking the juice each day saw a 30% reduction in IMT after one year. The study suggests that reduction in artery wall thickness and systolic blood pressure could be related to the potent antioxidant capacity of pomegranate juice.
There is clearly much study still to be done on the effects of pomegranate juice and other fruits rich in antioxidants. However, it is clear already that the health benefits of pomegranate are significant.