What if you could drink a glass of fruit juice and diminish the effects of cancer? The idea is becoming closer to reality, according to several studies of how pomegranates can help fight prostate, breast and lung cancers.
Pomegranates’ Key Chemicals
Pomegranate juice contains antioxidant chemicals that may have cancer-preventing benefits, in particular, polyphenolic flavonoids. Even though those chemicals are also found in fruits, vegetables, tea, wine, and soybeans, pomegranates contain a larger percentage of antioxidants.
Studies so far are intriguingly promising. Following is what researchers have discovered in the past few years.
A 2005 study of 48 men who had surgery or radiation following prostate cancer suggests that pomegranate juice may reduce the return of prostate cancer. Researchers’ findings were presented in San Antonio at the American Urological Association.
In the test, they measured the amount of a protein produced by the prostate (PSA, prostate-specific antigen). These levels were checked every three months during the study. The men drank eight ounces of pomegranate juice daily until their disease progressed. Drinking pomegranate juice significantly lengthened the amount of time it took for the men’s average PSA levels to double (from 14 to 26 months, on average), says the study.
A Second Prostate Study
In a trial that began in 2007, UCLA researchers are exploring the potential of pomegranate juice to slow or reverse increasing PSA levels in men who have undergone treatment for localized prostate cancer. Men in this trial randomly drink a special preparation of pomegranate juice or a placebo drink daily.
"Daily consumption of pomegranate juice has resulted in a significant lengthening of PSA doubling time and disease stabilization," said Dr. Allan Pantuck, principal investigator. "We hope to verify those results in a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study."
Researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology reported that pomegranate seed oil triggers a self-destruct mechanism in breast cancer cells. They also found that pomegranate juice can be toxic to most estrogen-dependent breast cancer cells, but leave normal breast cells largely unaffected.
In the first study, laboratory-grown breast cancer cells were treated for three days with pomegranate seed oil. The researchers observed apoptosis (cell death) in 37 to 56 percent of the cancer cells, depending upon the dose of oil applied.
In the second study, researchers exposed both normal and cancerous breast cells to pomegranate wine and pomegranate peel extracts. The vast majority of the normal cells remained unaffected, but more than 75 percent of the estrogen-dependent cancer cells, and approximately half of the non-estrogen dependent cancer cells were destroyed.
"Pomegranates are unique in that the hormonal combinations inherent in the fruit seem to be helpful both for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer," explains Dr. Ephraim Lansky, who headed the studies.
University of Wisconsin–Madison scientists using mice in a 2007 study, showed that consuming pomegranates may help reduce the growth and spread of lung cancer cells or even prevent lung cancer from developing. Hasan Mukhtar, co-leader of the Cancer Chemoprevention Program of the University of Wisconsin Paul P. Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center, announced the findings in Cancer Research.
The dosages tested were comparable to what humans could reasonably consume in a day. Chemicals induced lung tumors, then the mice received pomegranate extract in drinking water. Mice exposed to cancer-inducing chemicals and treated with pomegranate extract had significantly lower lung tumor growth than mice treated with carcinogens only. Tumor reduction was 53.9 percent at 84 days and 61.6 percent at 140 days.
Doctors caution patients not to rely on pomegranate juice alone when treating cancer or delay seeking medical care. Meanwhile, research continues on how the mighty pomegranate may factor into the future treatment of many cancers.
Phase III Randomized Study of Pomegranate Juice in Patients With Rising Prostate-Specific Antigen Levels After Surgery or Radiotherapy for Localized Prostate Cancer (UCLA-0507059-01).