In the Old Testament, the Promised Land flows with milk and honey- and pomegranates. In addition, in an erotic double entendre in the Biblical Song of Songs, he bride invites the groom to “drink the juice of my pomegranate”.
The name is derived from the Latin pomum (apple) and granatus (seeded). Granatum is Latin for grain, a reference to this fruit’s seeds, which are so numerous they suggest a handful of grain. The generic name, Punica, refers to the Phoenicians, who cultivated the shrubby tree around the ancient Mediterranean and prized the sweet, tart juice contained in its seed castings.
Native to the area from northern India to eastern Iran, pomegranate and its juice have been popular in the Middle East, Iran, and India since ancient times. Nut until recently, the only pomegranate product popular in the West was the syrup made from its reduced juice, grenadine. Now that’s hanging as pomegranate juice has become a popular beverage thanks to its delicious taste and high antioxidant level.
Like all brightly colored fruits and vegetables, the pigments that give pomegranate juice its deep red color are potent antioxidants that help prevent and heal the cell damage at the root of heart disease and many other conditions. However, pomegranate juice is among nature’s richest sources of antioxidants, containing more than either tea or red wine. The specific antioxidants compounds in the juice are called punialagins.
University of Florida researchers asked 11 adults to abstain from fruits, vegetable, and antioxidant supplements for 3 days to minimize the amounts of antioxidants in their bloodstream. Then they were given 800 milligrams of pomegranate extract. Subsequent blood samples showed a major jump in antioxidant content.
Noted heart disease researcher Dean Ornish, M.D., and colleagues at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, asked 45 people with heart disease and poor blood flow through their hearts to drink ether a placebo beverage or about 1 cup of pomegranate juice a day. After 3 months, blood flow through the heart decreased in the placebo group, but increased significantly in those who drank the pomegranate juice, thus reducing risk for heart attack.
Israeli researchers reported similar results in a study of pomegranate juice effects on blood flow through the carotid artery, which carries blood to the brain. After 1 year, participants drinking the placebo beverage showed carotid arteries made 9 percent narrower by the growth of the cholesterol- rich deposits that lead to a heart attack and stroke. But those who drank about 3 ounces of pomegranate juice a day showed carotid arteries 30 percent more open, meaning more blood flow into the brain and significantly less risk of stroke.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and the leading risk factor for stroke. The Israeli study also showed that 1 year of daily pomegranate juice consumption reduced blood pressure 21 percent, adding to protection against heart attack and stroke.
Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. In another study, the Israeli team asked people with type 2 diabetes to drink about 2 cups of pomegranate juice daily. After 3 months, blood tests showed biochemical markers indicating improved blood flow and less risk of heart attack and stroke.
No side effects have been reported. Allergic reactions are possible. Because pomegranate juice is tart, commercial brands add considerable sugar, those who must watch sugar intake—such as people with diabetes—should be careful.