Revered by traditional cultures the world over, the pomegranate has long been thought of as a powerful symbol of abundance, fertility, and longevity. Science is now catching up to what ancient cultures have known for millennia. Pomegranates have been shown to contain at least 124 different phytochemicals, with potentially many more yet to be discovered. They have the highest concentration of polyphenols of any fruit, with the most unique and powerful among these being punicalagins.
What are Punicalagins?
Plant polyphenols have high antioxidant activity and provide protection against oxidative stress, free radical damage, and disease. Punicalagins are a group of polyphenols found only in the juice, seeds, and peel of pomegranate fruit. While we often think of green tea or red wine for their antioxidant activity, pomegranate juice has three times the antioxidant effect of either of these thanks to the power of punicalagins. Punicalagins are very large molecules and can be metabolized down to a variety of different components in the body, such as ellagic acid and urolithins, all of which provide health benefits.
One study found that punicalagins were particularly effective at activating the AMPK pathway, an important mitochondrial energy sensor that can stimulate weight loss, improve insulin sensitivity, decrease inflammation and improve muscle performance, among many other benefits. Punicalagins are also one of the few foods that contain natural aromatase inhibitors. Aromatase inhibitors inhibit the production of estrogen, which can lower the risk of breast cancer.
Health Benefits of Punicalagins in Pomegranates
Pomegranates have been credited with a host of health benefits that science is still in the process of quantifying, but can include:
1. High doses of the punicalagins in pomegranate have a protective effect against gastric ulcers and aspirin and ethanol-induced ulcers.
2. The anti-inflammatory effects of punicalagins offer protective and modulating effects on the intestinal microbiome of those with Crohn’s disease.
3. Pomegranate extract can also inhibit glucose absorption in the gut, offering anti-diabetic effects.
4. Pomegranate seed extract can offer protective effects on the liver and kidneys against injury from powerful pharmaceuticals like Cisplatin (a chemotherapy drug), and pomegranate extract can suppress cancerous growth in the liver.
5. Decreases inflammation and brings pain relief to aching joints, like knee, back, and hand pain. Studies have found pomegranates have anti-inflammatory qualities and could even help with cartilage degradation.
6. Punicalagins in pomegranate have been found to stimulate the production of nitric oxide in the body, especially when consuming pomegranate juice, which supports cardiovascular health and reduced blood pressure.
7. Pomegranate extract can help prevent prostate cancer and can actively help kill prostate cancer cells.
8. Likewise, pomegranate extract has also been found to reduce the spread of breast cancer cells and induce cancer cell death.
9. Pomegranate juice can help fight gingivitis alongside standard dental treatments.
10. Pomegranate peel extract can support urinary tract health and reduce the risk of UTIs from E. coli, the most common cause of UTIs.
11. Pomegranate juice can improve the inflammatory markers associated with type 2 diabetes such as CRP and interleukin-6.
12. Pomegranate extract can protect the joints in those suffering from osteoarthritis by blocking the enzymes responsible for the tissue damage.
13. Pomegranate can help lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels.
14. Pomegranate can also help improve memory in older adults.
While the research is still preliminary, the results that are out on punicalagins are extremely promising and a good reason to include sources of pomegranate in your diet. This ancient fruit is still good for what ails you in the modern world.