Natural compounds in pomegranates may prevent growth of hormone-dependent breast cancer, according to findings of a study published in the January 2010 issue of Cancer Prevention Research. These phytochemcials are called ellagitannins. Ellagitannins convert to ellagic acid in the body.
“Phytochemicals suppress estrogen production that prevents the proliferation of breast cancer cells and the growth of estrogen-responsive tumors,” said primary investigator of the study, Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., Director of the Division of Tumor Cell Biology and co-leader of the Breast Cancer Research Program at City of Hope in Duarte, CA.
Pomegranate juice is high in antioxidant activity. Ellagitannins found in pomegranates inhibit an enzyme that converts androgens to estrogen. This enzyme is called aromatase. The aromatase enzyme plays a critical role in the formation of cancer of the breast. The growth of breast cancer is thereby inhibited by suppressing aromatase.
“We were surprised by our findings,” said Chen. “We previously found other fruits, such as grapes, to be capable of the inhibition of aromatase. But phytochemicals in pomegranates and in grapes are different.”
According to Gary Stoner, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Ohio State University, results are promising enough to suggest that more experiments with pomegranates in animals and humans are warranted. Powel Brown, M.D., Ph.D., medical oncologist and chairman of the Clinical Cancer Prevention Department at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, agreed with Stoner’s statement and said these results are intriguing.
Brown recommended that future studies focus on testing pomegranate juice for its effect on estrogen levels, menopausal symptoms, breast density or even as a cancer preventive agent.
“More research on the individual components and the combination of chemicals is needed to understand the potential risks and benefits of using pomegranate juice or isolated compounds for a health benefit or for cancer prevention,” Brown said. “This study does suggest that studies of the ellagitannins from pomegranates should be continued.”
Stoner suggested that people, “might consider consuming more pomegranates to protect against cancer development in the breast and perhaps in other tissues and organs.”
Note that pomegranates are not native to the Americas. They have long been revered in Asia and the Middle East for spiritual as well as health reasons. Modern science has only recently begun to explore the importance of this super antioxidant in the prevention of cancer and heart disease.
Antioxidants are the naturally occurring substances in plants that protect the body from free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive atoms or molecules that interfere with normal cellular functions. They are everywhere in our modern world in the form of food additives, cigarette smoke, pollutants, pesticides, and more.
The recent interest in the antioxidant power of pomegranates began around 2000 when a group of scientists in Israel demonstrated the effectiveness of the fruit in treating atherosclerosis.
Pomegranate juice has three times the antioxidant power of red wine or green tea.