Pomegranate, probably cultivated earliest in Persia (modern day Iran) and the western Himalayas. Later migrated along the Silk Route and is today grown extensively in Korea, Japan and Latin America, where it was introduced by settlers and traders. Throughout history and in many religions and cultures, the pomegranate fruit has been revered as a symbol of strength and vitality, prosperity and fertility.
Pomegranate is a rich source of highly active phytochemicals. One of the major benefits of pomegranate juice is in the protection of arteries from fatty deposits (atherosclerosis). It also improves blood flow to the heart and protects from coronary heart disease. Research also exists to show its effect on:
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Muscle strength
- Dental plaque
- Muscle soreness
- Hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol)
- Gum disease
- Prostate cancer
- Inflamed and sore mouth
- Intestinal worm infestations
- Sore throat
- Hemorrhoids and
- Menopausal symptoms, among others.
What Does Research Have to Say?
In one of the most important authoritative studies till date relating pomegranate and type 2 diabetes, researchers from the Jordan University of Science and Technology measured the direct effect of fresh pomegranate juice on the levels of fasting blood glucose as well as on insulin and melatonin in individuals with impaired fasting glucose. They found noticeably lower levels of fasting blood sugar as well as lower insulin resistance after three hours of administering pomegranate juice. In patients with impaired fasting glucose, pomegranate juice caused a decrease in the level of serum melatonin within an hour of consumption.
How Does it Act?
A key mechanism by which pomegranate extract benefits type 2 diabetes patients is through reduction of oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation. Various fractions of pomegranate (peels, bark, juice) contain phenolics, flavonoids, ellagitannins (including punicalagins), complex polysaccharides, and minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus. The biological properties are a result mainly of the flavonoids and tannins.
Pomegranate is also rich in vitamins C & E, coenzyme Q10 and lipoic acid. The antioxidant levels of pomegranate juice are greater than any other natural juice. The seed also contains a unique lipid profile that confers many therapeutic effects on it.
Apart from their antioxidant activity that helps in reducing the low grade systemic inflammation associated with type 2 diabetes, there is an interesting mechanism by which pomegranate shows its anti-diabetic activity. The ellagitannins present in pomegranate interact with the gut microflora (good bacteria present in our intestines) and increase the growth of some of them. These bacteria, in turn, activate receptors called PPARs (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors). These receptors are targets, among others, to drugs against type 2 diabetes.
These receptors are also important modulators of how lipids and carbohydrates are metabolized in our bodies. Thus as indirect activators of these receptors, the phytochemicals in pomegranate are able to reduce serum triglycerides and glucose levels and also improve insulin sensitivity and increase the levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol).
Pomegranate extract liquid and juice contain components including polyphenols, which are organic chemicals often found to be beneficial to human beings. These chemicals have health benefits that are beyond the cardiovascular system as well. Ellagic acid, one of the phytochemicals abundant in pomegranates, has been found in research studies to have the ability to disrupt cancer development at many different stages.
An important polyphenol that is found in pomegranate juice is punicalagin, which is often used to measure how much “strength” a pomegranate extract contains per serving. This chemical is able to slow prostate cancer cell growth. In fact, there is a particular inflammatory chemical called “NF-kB” that is often the culprit in the development of various forms of cancer. Pomegranate juice and extract benefit users through the action of the punicalagin that is able to retard this inflammatory “NF-kB.” Pomegranate juice benefits skin by delaying signs of ageing, like wrinkles and fine lines. It nourishes the epidermis and also repairs skin damage due to sun exposure.
How to take Pomegranate
The best way to derive benefits of pomegranate is to consume fresh juice of the fruit. If the seeds are also part of the juice, it will give you additional benefits of the phytochemicals present in the seed oil.
When you cannot get the fresh fruit, you can rely on a good quality supplement that is usually available in the form of capsules that contain pomegranate extract. Supplements are also available that contain extracts of the bark of the plant, the seed and the flower. There have been claims that flower extracts reduce arterial hardening by 70%, as compared to 40% by juice, against controls. You have to choose the supplement depending upon the benefits you wish to derive from pomegranate.
How Much of it Helps?
In the study done by researchers at the Jordan University of Science and Technology, a dosage of 1.5 ml of fresh fruit juice per kg of body weight was used. Experts suggest a dosage of 800 mg of the pomegranate extract (when fresh juice is unavailable, or ease of consumption is required) yielding 318 mg of punicalagin for patients of type 2 diabetes.
How Safe is Pomegranate?
As a fruit that has been consumed since time immemorial, pomegranate is as safe as any other natural food. This means that if it isn’t consumed in excess, the individual will derive great benefits out of it. Unless you are allergic to the fruit, you won’t experience any side effects.
Most people also tolerate supplements well, if taken at the prescribed dosages. You should not consume root and stems of the pomegranate plant in large quantities as the toxin within them can cause severe harm to your body.
Consuming fresh pomegranate juice may slightly lower blood pressure. So if you already have low blood pressure, you should be careful while consuming pomegranate juice or taking pomegranate supplements. It is also regarded as safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Pomegranate Extract – The Verdict
It is difficult for any natural food to come close to the sheer chemical complexity of bioactive compounds found in pomegranate. It is no wonder that this fruit has been revered through the millennia by almost all religions and cultures around the world.
Pomegranate is a delicious fruit with a wide range of health benefits. Not only the fruit juice, but extracts of the flower, bark and seeds also have health benefits owing to their unique chemical profile.
Supplements like pomegranate extract help in reducing the burden of health complications and side effects of anti-diabetic medication. Diabetes is the result of long term inflammation and the antioxidants in pomegranate help in reducing this inflamed state to bring about a state of healthy balance. Add to it a healthy diet, good lifestyle choices, exercise and meditation, and you have a robust regimen to reverse diabetes.