Pity the poor pomegranate. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is on a rampage against one of the most successful makers of pomegranate juice, POM Wonderful®. You might think the feds would have more important fish to fry, but the FTC is suing POM Wonderful® on the grounds that its advertising contains “false and unsubstantiated claims” about the benefits of pomegranates for heart disease, erectile dysfunction and prostate cancer.
Keep in mind that the FTC is responsible for protecting the American public against misleading advertising. Nevertheless, we are exposed to a never-ending supply of spam for organ “enhancement,” easy weight loss, and prescription-free pain relief. Many of the products that are advertised in newspapers, late-night cable TV and on the Web make preposterous claims for which there is virtually no evidence.
POM Wonderful®, on the other hand, has actually spent money on research. The company claims to have invested $34 million on various studies. And if one actually searches the medical literature it is possible to find hundreds of articles supporting the health benefits of pomegranates. For example:
• A pomegranate extract can slow the growth of breast cancer cells in tissue culture (Oncology Reports, Oct., 2010).
• Pre-treatment with pomegranate juice helped protect rats against drug-induced heart muscle damage (Cardiovascular Toxicology, Sept. 2010).
• A pomegranate extract protected skin cells in tissue culture from damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. (International Journal of Dermatology, March, 2010).
• A randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that pomegranate seed oil taken for four weeks improved lipid levels, especially triglycerides (British Journal of Nutrition, Aug, 2010).
• A review of cancer research by dermatologists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison concluded that: “Recent research has shown that pomegranate extracts selectively inhibit the growth of breast, prostate, colon and lung cancer cells in culture. In preclinical animal studies, oral consumption of pomegranate extract inhibited growth of lung, skin, colon and prostate tumors.” (Nutrition and Cancer, Nov. 2009).
• Pomegranate juice keeps bad LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and accumulating in arterial plaque (Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Sept. 2005).
• Drinking 8 oz. of pomegranate juice daily for three months helped coronary heart disease patients get more oxygen to their heart muscles (American Journal of Cardiology, Sept. 15, 2005)
* Two weeks of daily pomegranate juice consumption (50 ml) reduced angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) activity and lowered blood pressure in people with hypertension (Atherosclerosis, Sept., 2001)
• Men who had been treated for prostate cancer with surgery or radiation had a slower rise in PSA (prostate-specific antigen, a marker of prostate cancer activity) if they drank 8 oz. of pomegranate juice a day. This study did not have a placebo arm, so the rate of increase was a before-and-after comparison. (Clinical Cancer Research, July 1, 2006)
It certainly would be a mistake for anyone to conclude that drinking pomegranate juice would be a substitute for medical treatment for heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer or any other serious ailment. On the other hand, it is ludicrous for the FTC to expect a manufacturer of pomegranate juice to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to try and replicate drug studies for a product that cannot be patented.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers spend over $800 million to develop a new drug and get it through the FDA’s maze. They can then sell the drug for an outrageous amount of money. If people can get benefit by tailoring their diets to reduce the risks they worry about most, where is the harm? We think pomegranates and pomegranate juice could be a good as well as tasty addition to a healthy lifestyle.