Pomegranate as ‘Art-ery’ Therapy

I find it interesting when I look at fruit, or slice it open. It's often remarkably like the internal body tissue it’s primed to support.  Is it not nature’s clever way of directing the traffic?  Omega 3s for example, which are known for their support of mental health are found in abundance in walnuts, which looks just like a brain.

When I cut open a pomegranate I observe luscious drops of red pearls in two distinct chambers, separated by a soft, furry pith reminding me of little drops of blood moving around the left and right chambers of the heart.  It should be no great wonder then that research has identified that the simple pomegranate has an effective artery-clearing action and has been found to prevent the progression of coronary heart disease.

In a study Published in Clinical Nutrition in 2004 titled, "Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation," researchers discovered pomegranate, administered in juice form over the course of a year, reversed plaque accumulation in the carotid arteries of patients with severe, though symptomless, carotid artery stenosis (defined as 70--90% blockage in the internal carotid arteries).

The study found: “The mean intima media thickness the left and right common carotid arteries in severe carotid artery stenosis patients that consumed pomegranate juice for up to 1 year was reduced after 3, 6, 9 and 12 months of pomegranate juice consumption by 13%, 22%, 26% and 35%, respectively, in comparison to baseline values”.

Researchers also found that pomegranate extract treatment resulted in the following 7 beneficial effects:

  1. Reduced levels of oxidative stress
  2. Reduced monocyte chemotactic protein-1, a chemical messenger (chemokine) associated with inflammatory processes within the arteries.
  3. Reduced lipid accumulation in the heart muscle
  4. Reduced macrophage infiltration in the heart muscle
  5. Reduced levels of monocyte chemotactic protein-1 and fibrosis in the myocardium
  6. Reduced cardiac enlargement
  7. Reduced ECG abnormalities

But for those of us who don’t have the time to plough through all the technical jargon of a scientific study nature gives us an obvious clue as to how pomegranate ‘art-ery therapy’ may work.  When you taste pomegranate or drink the juice you will note the aftertaste - a dry, astringent feeling in the mouth and gums, leaving a puckered sensation on the inner membranes.  This cleansing sensation is in fact caused by the shrinking and disinfecting of your mucous membranes, as occurs with all astringents. And when you consider that your arteries are lined with the same cell type as your mouth (epithelial cells) this makes sense. 

So how does it work?

Researches identified three likely mechanisms of action behind pomegranate's observed anti-atherosclerotic activity:

  • Antioxidant properties: Subjects receiving pomegranate saw significant reductions in oxidative stress, including decreases in autoantibodies formed against ox-LDL, which is a form of oxidized low density lipoprotein associated with the development of atherosclerosis. Essentially, pomegranate prevents the heart disease promoting effects of oxidative stress. 
  • Blood Pressure Lowering Properties: The study found that those on the treatment of pomegranate juice showed a significant improvement in blood pressure: the patient's systolic blood pressure was reduced 7%, 11% ,10%, 10% and 12% after 1, 3, 6, 9, and 12 months of pomegranate consumption, respectively, compared to values obtained before treatment.   Systolic blood pressure (the top number in a BP reading, eg the 120 of the 120/80 reading) indicates the pressure in the arteries as the heart pumps out blood during each beat.  Pomegranate appears to have a healing effect on the inner lining of the artery, the endothelium.
  • Plaque Lesion Stabilization: Two of the ten study patients on pomegranate juice (after 3 and 12 months) experienced clinical deterioration which was followed by carotid surgery to remove lesions.  The lesions were analysed to determine the difference in their composition in comparison to those who did not receive pomegranate juice. The researchers noticed four distinct positive differences in the composition lesions found in these two patients. 
  1. Reduced cholesterol content
  2. Reduced lipid peroxides
  3. Increased reduced Glutathione content
  4. Reduced LDL oxidation

Of significance to note was that during the study all of subjects the were undergoing conventional, drug-based care for cardiovascular disease, e.g. cholesterol- and blood pressure-lowering agents. The pomegranate treatment did not appear to interfere with medication, making it a suitable complementary/adjunct therapy for those on pharmaceuticals.

So, when you next feel that amazing cleansing effect in your mouth after eating pomegranate you can now imagine the internal benefits to your arteries and veins.