Pomegranates Fight Breast Cancer, Help Prostate and Heart

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Pomegranates have made headlines in the past for being helpful in fighting prostate cancer and benefiting the heart. Now researchers find that eating the fruit may reduce the incidence of hormone-dependent breast cancer.

Pomegranates are a rich source of a type of phytonutrient (plant-based nutrient) called ellagic acid, which belongs to a larger group of compounds known as ellagitannins. Ellagitannins are water-soluble, which makes them easy for the body to absorb. When naturally occurring ellagitannins (found in fruits such as pomegranates, raspberries, and others), they are broken down into ellagic acid, glucose, and other substances.

The principal investigator of the new study, Shiuan Chen, PhD, director of the Division of Tumor Cell Biology and co-leader of the Breast Cancer Research Program at City of Hope in Durante, California, noted in the news release from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) that phytonutrients have the ability to “suppress estrogen production that prevents the proliferation of breast cancer cells and the growth of estrogen responsive tumors.”

The ellagic acid found in pomegranates inhibits aromatase, an enzyme that transforms androgen to estrogen. Because aromatase has a major role in breast cancer, the ability of pomegranates to suppress this enzyme means they have the potential to inhibit the growth of breast cancer.

Dr. Chen and his colleagues evaluated whether the phytonutrients in pomegranates can inhibit aromatase and ultimately cancer growth. From a group of ten ellagitannin-derived compounds in pomegranates, they found that the fruit has the potential to prevent estrogen-responsive breast cancers. A metabolite of ellagic acid, called urolithin B, significantly inhibited breast cancer cell growth.

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Gary Stoner, PhD, professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Ohio State University, who was not associated with the study, noted that the results are promising enough to warrant further experiments with pomegranate in both animals and humans. Powel Brown, MD, PhD, a medical oncologist and chairman of the Clinical Cancer Prevention Department at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, concurred with Stoner’s assessment and suggested that future research focus on testing pomegranate juice for its impact on estrogen levels, menopausal symptoms, and as a cancer preventive agent.

Pomegranates have been the subject of much research in the fight against prostate cancer as well. One example is a recent study published in October 2009 in which scientists found that pomegranate extract induced the death of prostate cancer cells. A subsequent study noted that the ellagic acid in pomegranate juice may be responsible for its benefits against prostate cancer.

In an Oklahoma State University review, researchers noted that pomegranate juice has been shown to significantly reduce atherosclerotic lesions in mice and intima media thickness in cardiac patients, and to reduce both serum angiotensin converting enzyme activity and systolic blood pressure in hypertensive patients, all of which benefit the heart.

Stoner suggests that individuals “might consider consuming more pomegranates to protect against cancer development in the breast and perhaps in other tissues and organs.” Given that research indicates that pomegranates may help fight prostate cancer, benefit the heart, and also fight serious infections such as MRSA, it seems like good advice.

SOURCES:
American Association for Cancer Research, news release Jan. 5, 2010
Basu A, Penugonda K. Nutrition Reviews 2009 Jan; 67(1): 49-56
Kasimsetty SG et al. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2009 Nov 25; 57(22): 10636-44
Koyama S et al. Growth Hormone & IGF Research 2009 Oct 21

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