By Joyce Hendley, M.S., November/December 2008
There are many good reasons to pick up a pomegranate: they’re festive, seasonal, pack tons of antioxidants and, a new study suggests, may help to relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease.
In a recent study from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, researchers gave mice either a daily dose of pomegranate extract or water, in addition to their regular food. Ten days later, the mice were chemically induced to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
After six weeks, all the water-treated mice developed arthritis, but only two-thirds of the pomegranate-treated mice did. When the pomegranate drinkers did develop arthritis, it tended to set in later and with much less severity. What’s more, the pomegranate-treated mice had significantly lower levels of inflammatory compounds in their joint fluids, suggesting that the antioxidant polyphenols in pomegranate juice might short-circuit the inflammatory process that causes pain and swelling in rheumatoid arthritis.
Most studies link pomegranate’s benefits to its powerful punch of polyphenols—including anthocyanins (found in blue, purple and deep-red foods) and tannins (also found in wine and tea). In a study published earlier this year, researchers found that compared with other antioxidant-rich beverages including blueberry juice, cranberry juice and red wine, “pomegranate [juice] naturally has the highest antioxidant capacity,” reports David Heber, M,D. Ph.D., study collaborator and director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.
Arthritis is just the latest in a long list of conditions for which pomegranate juice shows therapeutic potential. Research suggests the fruit has benefits for the heart:â€ˆstudies have shown it may help to reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries and lower blood pressure. Other work found that when men with prostate cancer drank a cup of pomegranate juice daily, the increase in their levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a marker of disease progress, slowed. Still more preliminary studies hint that pomegranate juice may help manage diabetes and erectile dysfunction.
Critics point out that much of this research, including the recent study out of Case Western, has been funded by PomWonderful—the leading pomegranate juice brand—which has poured some $25 million into clinical research involving the fruit. But others point out that the results—much of them published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals—speak for themselves.
Bottom Line: It’s still too early to recommend drinking pomegranate juice to alleviate arthritis symptoms, but a cup a day of 100 percent juice delivers plenty of antioxidants that may provide other health benefits. Check with your doctor first, however, as pomegranate juice may interact with some medications, including statins. Don’t forget fresh pomegranates—in season now. Although you don’t get as many tannins eating the seeds as drinking the juice, you will get a bit of fiber and abundant punicic acid, a polyunsaturated heart-healthy oil.