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.

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  1. joyce

    Can people who already have low blood pressure, 90/50, drink pomegranate juice
    daily for the other benefits it offers?

  2. Deb

    I don’t understand why the FDA is worrying about something that is good for us being touted as good for us, when it continues to let manufacturers pour red, blue, and yellow dyes into our food supply – dyes which have been shown to be unhealthy and even poisonous to some – dyes that are banned in European nations. What the heck?

  3. John G.

    You say the FTC should not 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.
    The FTC merely says that the company should not make claims that are not substantiated. Until they are substantiated, you should not be weighing in on the side of the corporation because you don’t know. Meanwhile, anyone can freely purchase and consume pomegranate juice without government interference.

  4. ALPN

    Pomegranates are just plain good, even plain. I eat them as fruit, juice, and best of all as wine. I hope some research will be done on the benefits of pomegranate wine. Just guessing, but I think it would be as beneficial or better than red wine from grapes. My daughter gave me a bottle of Armenian pomegranate wine for Christmas one year and that is the kind that I drink. There are also some California brands on the market. Eat colorfully, live healthfully.

  5. ananya

    I personally loved this info…
    I am a person who more fond of juices than actual fruit as it is accessible and they claim to have all the necessary nutrients and vitamins required.
    FTC should go after every product to find abt their benefits they claim for the betterment of the society.

  6. Rembot

    For some reason, some people seem to think that the FTC is the FDA regarding this pomegranate company complaint. The FTC is the Federal TRADE Commission — not the Food and Drug Administration. This complaint is regarding the truth of POM’s advertising. The FTC is asking the pomegranate company to PROVE its claims that drinking this stuff can help cure prostate cancer and several other serious illnesses. Reasonable enough — either it works, or it doesn’t.

  7. Beverly

    I feel that if there was as much money poured into more of the products like Pomegranate Juice as with the patient killing medications we’d probably find out more facts about the benefits or harmful effects in people from PJ. I agree with the article, this product doesn’t need to be at the TOP of list to be checked out but at the bottom instead. It’s not that is shouldn’t be there, if what FTC say is true, it just makes more sense… at least to me.
    FTC should go after all the other products that are PROVEN to do harm but promises to do miracles for whatever ails you. I drink POM’s PJ regularly but not because it’s some sort of natural miracle healer but because it tastes good. So if what I’m drinking makes a difference in my health in the mean time, GREAT… if not, no big deal. I try to be realistic no matter what the claim says.
    I hope it was ok, but I sent the link of the article to White House.Gov, I think we all should be concerned about the Pharmaceutical Companies not being held to the same standards as… POM PJ. If that did happen… and of course before so many people die from taking the meds, then I’d stand behind those Federal Agencies with more trust. The Pharm Co. pay so little in compensation to the families of those who have died compared to how much money they made selling them to unsuspecting people who just want to feel better or live longer by taking them.
    They TRUSTED those who prescribed because and (I hope) they didn’t know it was bad for the patient. So before someone slams the article, lets look at what Pharms Co. who have gotten by for decades knowing that manufacturing and prescribing to people whom they would kill because of the chemicals they are made with. Thankfully for this site that I’m able to look at alternatives to help with my aches and pains that I don’t need to take a prescription to feel better.

  8. Rachel

    I wonder why the government is spending the scarce resources of time and money targeting the sellers of pomegranate juice. There are so many harmful products on the market whose sellers make outrageous claims. What are they going to target next? Orange juice? Thanks to the Graedons for informing us of this silliness. My husband and I rarely miss your radio program – we both believe that we are healthier as a result.

  9. MJW

    In response, we should all rush out and buy as much pomegranate juice as we have room to store.

  10. Gail

    Great article, thank you.

  11. jenn

    I agree completely with your comments. There are over 19 sites under HHS, and some are very good and some are very bad. I was not too familiar with the FTC, but I am VERY familiar with the FDA and it is the worst site of all the HHS sites. I especially liked your bringing up of all the products that “slide by” with total unsubstantiated claims.
    I have never actually read the POM labels, but if they are labeled like other supplements and breakfast cereals, they could word it in such a way that says “may have the following benefits” and until I read the label, I do not know. There is a vast difference in labeling and advertising claims. But advertisers know propaganda and innuendo perfectly! They leave you with an “impression” that is internalized through repitition, no matter HOW aware you are of it. Which is why I do not watch TV, except for Public Broadcast! P.S. Your article has sold me on trying POM brand.

  12. jh

    Yesterday on “Here and Now” there was an interview with Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor for Consumer Reports-Health, about supplement usage, although, she made some valid points, her defense of the the FDA, was not defensible. As long as those of us that take supplements, are willing to educate ourselves and take responsibility for our own health, we should be able to pom up!

  13. Rembot

    You mention that it “certainly would be a mistake for anyone to conclude that drinking pomegranate juice would be a substitute for medical treatment…” – yet that is precisely what the marketing for this and similar potions want the consumer to conclude by inference. You cite many seemingly favorable studies, but is a small decrease in cancer cells in a mouse a good reason for people to buy this stuff every week at the supermarket?
    Perhaps, but there is nothing in the studies cited which has convinced physicians to prescribe this juice for any ailment — so are there any real health benefits here? Your response to the FTC complaint shows an enthusiastic bias in favor of this commercial product, and you don’t cite the downsides to the hypermarketing of any alleged, but obviously unproven, health panacea.
    Is drinking pomegranate juice going to help my prostate problems, erectile dysfunction or heart disease, or is it not? You didn’t include any details about the FTC complaint, but touted 9 studies that seemed to show some positive results – how are we to judge what the charges are and whether these studies refute the charges?
    The FTC (which is probably not actually on a “rampage” by the way), will give the manufacturer a chance to prove their claims or change their marketing and advertising — it’s that simple. If POM Wonderful can back up their claims, they will have gleaned a giant marketing and advertising bonus. The public will purchase almost anything that is made to appear to have a health benefit – upscale “health food” stores are crammed to the rafters with overpriced foods and concoctions that consumers are encouraged to assume “may” carry a health benefit, but are also clearly marked as being unchecked by the FDA and a flat denial of any benefit in curing any disease or condition.
    This is all about the marketing and schmoozing of health foods masquerading as medicines, and the FTC is starting to once again be a guardian for the consumer, who can only win when the products they buy are honestly marked as to nutritional and/or health values. The pomegranate marketing industry is an appropriate subject for the FTC to check into — it’s certainly a big enough “fish to fry.” The FTC and the FDA have been weakened by political and commercial pressure for too many years — we’re starting to get them back on the beat as our primary consumer watchdogs.

  14. Eric H

    It’s important to check the ingredients on any pomegranate juice you buy from the grocery. A lot of these will have apple juice listed as the main ingredient. Some even include corn syrup.
    Personally, I buy the juice that does NOT come from concentrate. It costs more, but I also do not drink as much of it. I usually pour a 4 oz. glass every morning.

  15. Grace

    This is as bad as the witch hunt that is going on concerning raw dairy. Pasteurization and homogenization have been shown again and again to interfere with the nutritional value of dairy, causing lactose intolerance by killing the enzymes necessary to digest dairy and making it impossible for our bodies to absorb the nutrients.
    My vitamin D levels were extremely low, in spit of drinking lots of vitamin-D enriched organic milk and taking vit-D supplements. Now that I have been so fortunate to have found a source of raw dairy, my vitamin D levels are great (taking no supplementation at all), my fragile nails and dry skin problems are gone and I feel great. Yet I hear about farmers being put in jail for offering milk straight from the cow.
    The question is who owns who in the government agencies that supposedly were instituted to protect We the People? It seems too many are in danger of losing too much money if we were allowed to eat clean and healthy and not need many of their drugs anymore.

  16. dp

    Why am I not surprised by this Drug company controlled behavior on the part of the FDA?! Joe and Terry, your work is so invaluable!

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