Pomegranates have long been used in traditional folk remedies to treat sore throats, inflammation, and rheumatism. And recent scientific research has suggested they are also potentially effective in both preventing and treating prostate cancer.
One study, conducted on human prostate cancer cells in lab dishes, at the University of Wisconsin, found that there were dose dependant improvements. Another study at the same facility injected mice with human prostate cancer cells. These mice developed malignancies. Some mice were fed plain water, whilst two other groups of mice were given water mixed with different concentrations of pomegranate extract.
Those mice that had water only had tumors that grew much faster than the pomegranate and water groups. The quantities given to the mice were comparable to that which people might get if they drank pomegranate juice on a daily basis. And whilst pomegranate juice hasn’t been tested on humans with prostate cancer yet, the results are very good.
The study did not indicate what aspects of pomegranate juice were responsible for slowing down prostate tumour growth. But the scientists involved did mention the antioxidant polyphenolic compounds, which are more effective than green tea and red wine.
Pomegranate extract not only inhibited the growth of cancer cells, it also worked by another means – apoptosis.
Apoptosis refers to a way that cells can die. Cancer growths are characterized by an uncontrolled growth of cells that do not follow the normal processes of cellular differentiation of regular, healthy cells. Cellular differentiation means that the characteristics of a cell change and get the functions that a mature, healthy cell would. For example, liver cells have specialized liver functions, as do prostate, breast, kidney, and all other types of cells. This is normal and healthy.
In tumour growths, although some cells fully differentiate, many only differentiate partially, and some not at all. And the tumors which have more undifferentiated cells grow faster. So, inducing cellular differentiation is one approach to cancer treatment. The other two ways that doctors and researchers try to treat cancer is by causing the death of cancerous cells. They do this through apoptosis, mentioned above, and necrosis.
In apoptosis, cell death is programmed into the cell when it is ‘born’. So the cell dies in a more natural way that is less destructive on its environment. By this I mean it doesn’t cause inflammation and the damage associated with it to neighboring cells that may be healthy. Cells die either when they reach cellular old age or when their death benefits the body as a whole. Necrosis, on the other hand, does cause inflammation.
Generally, prostate cancer grows very slowly, although it is unpredictable and can grow quickly and spread.
1. John Boik, Cancer and Natural Medicine (Oregon Medical Press, 1996)
2. Australian Healthy Food, March, 2006