Health Benefits of Pomegranates
Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.
They have been around since time immemorial. In fact, many people believe that the apple in the Garden of Eden associated with Adam and Eve's fall from Divine favor was, in fact, a pomegranate. The name pomegranate means "apple with grains" which refers to the many clear ruby-colored seeds. According to Jewish legend, the perfect pomegranate has 613 seeds, one for each commandment given to Israel.
Pomegranates were prominent in the life of the residents of the early Near East. The fruit ripens at the close of summer and are consumed on the Jewish New Year. The Hebrew spies carried back home luscious pomegranates and grapes after checking out Canaan. The first sherbet was thought to be a mixture of pomegranate juice mixed with snow. Embroided pomegranate flowers and fruits appeared on the bottom edge of the high priests robe. The capitals atop the pillars on the porch of Solomon's temple were each adorned with 200 carved pomegranates. Solomon in his famous Song of Songs frequently compares the beauty and magical charm of his lover with the attractive orange-red pomegranate flowers or the large fleshy fruit.
Pomegranates were found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and medical papyri of 1500 BC indicate that pomegranates were used in herbal medicine. Their astringent properties have long been utilized to expel tapeworms, roundworms, and pinworms. The seeds found use in the treatment of bronchitis. In addition, pomegranates have been widely used to treat diarrhea, sore throats, and skin problems.
In California, the pomegranate industry is thriving, thanks to some favorable new research highlighting the value of this fruit from antiquity. The pomegranate (Punica granatum) that originally came from the Middle East, is now commercially grown in California. The "Wonderful" variety has large purple-red fruits, and deep pink flesh. From Wonderful pomegranates an excellent juice is prepared. The 100 percent juice is available in stores nation-wide, and may also be mixed with blueberry or red cherry juice, providing a real phytochemical punch and a variety of tasty beverages.
Pomegranates have been found to possess the highest concentration of antioxidants among the edible fruits. These polyphenolic compounds include the potent anthocyanins, and occur in higher levels than those observed in blueberries and grapes. Pomegranates are also very rich in tannins, including ellagic aid and punicalagin. Pomegranate juice has recently been shown to retard the growth of highly aggressive prostate cancer cells. Other studies have shown that the anthocyanin-rich juice inhibits the proliferation of breast cancer and colon cancer cells.
Furthermore, the potent flavonoids (a class of polyphenolics) in pomegranates inhibit cholesterol oxidation and significantly inhibit the development of atherosclerotic lesions, with a 20-40% reduced build-up of plaque seen in experimental trials. Elderly individuals drinking Wonderful pomegranate juice also experienced a small drop in their systolic blood pressure levels.
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In a Danish study of 54,000 adults, those with the highest fruit and vegetable intake had a 28 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke than those with the lowest intake, after adjusting for potential confounders.