Pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a small shrub native to India that is now cultivated in temperate regions throughout the world, most notably in the Middle East, Asia and the Mediterranean. Both the seeds and juice of the fruits are enjoyed in various world cuisines. While the juice is more commonly consumed in North America, the seeds are widely used in India and Asia in cooking and to produce spices. The seeds, which are highly nutritious, have also been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. Now, researchers think that eating pomegranates may help people who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
IBD refers to either of two conditions -- Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). Both are characterized as chronic inflammation of the colon (large intestine), with Crohn’s involving deeper tissue damage than UC. It is estimated that three million people in the U.S. alone live with IBD, which produces severe cramping, bloating, chronic diarrhea, bloody stools and, ultimately, unintended weight loss and malnutrition due an inability to absorb fats and nutrients.
The antioxidant effects of pomegranate seeds is largely due to the presence of punicalagins, which provide three times the antioxidant value of green tea or red wine. Of particular interest to researchers is a compound called urolithin A, which has previously shown to possess potent anti-inflammatory properties and to enhance mitochondrial and muscle function. This substance is manufactured in the gut by resident bacteria when ellagitannins are introduced from eating pomegranates (as well as other red berries and walnuts).
Using a mouse model, scientists at the University of Louisville in Kentucky studied the effects of urolithin A and a synthetic form called UAS03 on the gut. They found that both compounds gravitated to gaps between cells in the lining of the intestinal tract, preventing toxins from entering that would otherwise trigger an inflammatory response followed by tissue damage.
More studies are needed, but this study does suggest that pomegranates may be an effective adjunct therapy for IBD patients. It should also be noted that other studies have found that drinking just 1 ½ cups of pomegranate juice per day significantly reduces key inflammatory markers such as interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein (CRP). As an added bonus, it’s delicious!
Rajbir Singh, Sandeep Chandrashekharappa, Sobha R. Bodduluri, et al. "Enhancement of the gut barrier integrity by a microbial metabolite through the Nrf2 pathway." Nature Communicationsvolume 10, Article number: 89 (2019)
Sohrab G, Nasrollahzadeh J, Zand H,et al. "Effects of pomegranate juice consumption on inflammatory markers in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized, placebo-controlled trial." J Res Med Sci. 2014 Mar;19(3):215-20.