OCT 25, 2021 3:00 AM PDT

Could Pomegranates Play a Role in Cancer Prevention or Treatment?

WRITTEN BY: Katie Kokolus

Pomegranate (Punica granatum L) is an ancient fruit grown primarily in western Asia and Mediterranean regions. Ancient anecdotes associate pomegranate consumption with health benefits. Because of these perceived health benefits, the pomegranate is often labeled as a superfood.  

In vitro and in vivo studies demonstrate that pomegranates contain components with antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory activity. However, the substitutive clinical examination of the association between pomegranate and the prevention or treatment of cancer is limited.

Evaluation of the anti-cancer properties of the pomegranate reveals a strong potential to aid in cancer prevention. Pomegranates contain different compounds which can obstruct the development, growth, and spread of cancer. Research suggests beneficial links between pomegranate and various cancer types, including breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer.

Pomegranates downregulate genes needed to generate inflammation throughout the body. Such genetic alterations reduce the activity of a vital inflammatory molecule called NF-kB, which can slow or even avert the formation of cancer cells.  

Pre-clinical studies using mouse models also suggest pomegranates have cancer preventative properties. When given to mice, pomegranate reduced the formation of tumors in the lungs and breast.

In addition to cancer prevention strategies, pre-clinical studies suggest that pomegranates could hinder the growth of existing cancer cells. Pomegranates can prevent cancer cells from dividing, thus slowing tumor growth. Increased apoptosis, or tumor cell death, is also associated with pomegranate.  

Growing tumors require ample blood vessels to provide blood and nutrients to the expanding number of cancer cells. Angiogenesis is the process by which new blood vessels form to feed the growing tumor. Pomegranate components block the production of mediators, which promote angiogenesis, thus promoting starvation of the tumor.  

While there is significant evidence suggesting that pomegranates could aid in our fight against cancer, the current research landscape, while promising, is still inadequate. Pomegranate may complement a healthy lifestyle, but it is still unclear how it may play a role in cancer development. More research, including large-scale, controlled clinical trials, is needed to generate conclusive evidence of how pomegranate or its components impact cancer prevention or therapy.    

Sources: pomegranates, superfood, prevention or treatment of cancer, anti-cancer properties, various cancer types, NF-kB, lungs, breast, existing cancer cells

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I received a PhD in Tumor Immunology from SUNY Buffalo and BS and MS degrees from Duquesne University. I also completed a postdoc fellowship at the Penn State College of Medicine. I am interested in developing novel strategies to improve the efficacy of immunotherapies used to extend cancer survivorship.
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