(NaturalNews) Emerging research continues to strengthen the evidence that pomegranate extracts can be used to treat chronic inflammation, and the diseases that go along with it.
Short-term inflammation is a normal immune response, but chronic inflammation has been linked to a number of diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, dementia and autoimmune disorders. Scientists are increasingly coming to believe that pomegranate helps combat inflammation, in part due to its exceptionally high content of antioxidants, particularly those in the ellagitannin family, such as punicalagins and punicalins.
Prior research has already suggested that pomegranate may help prevent a number of inflammation-linked diseases. It has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer, to slow or even stop the formation of prostate tumors in mice, to increase the amount of oxygen available to the heart and to fight the onset of heart disease by preventing LDL ("bad") cholesterol from oxidizing. Long-term consumption of pomegranate juice has also been linked to improvement in the symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
A research team from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland was the first to demonstrate that pomegranate extract can act directly to combat inflammation. In a 2005 study, they showed that when injected into human cells, pomegranate extract lowered inflammation and levels of enzymes that can cause cartilage to break down, as in arthritis.
The researchers followed this up with a study, published fall of 2008 in the Journal of Inflammation, in which they fed 175 milliliters of pomegranate extract to four rabbits, then compared them with two rabbits who had been given only water. All the rabbits were experiencing chronic inflammation.
The researchers found that the levels of antioxidant markers significantly increased and the levels of inflammation markers significantly decreased in the rabbits after they were given pomegranate extract.
Compared with the rabbits that had been given only water, the animals in the pomegranate extract group had 7 and 26 percent lower levels of the inflammation markers COX-1 and COX-2, respectively.
In addition, the levels of inflammatory compounds produced by cartilage cells also decreased.
"Consumption of pomegranate fruit extract may be of value in inhibiting inflammatory stimuli-induced cartilage breakdown and production of inflammatory mediators in arthritis," the researchers wrote.
The study was particularly significant because it demonstrated that pomegranate extract can reduce inflammation even if digested, and not just when injected directly into cells.
Most recently, researchers from Case Western Reserve University teamed up with researchers from the University of South Carolina to carry out the first study on whether the same effects could be observed in human cells. This study was also published in the Journal of Inflammation.
"No studies have been undertaken to investigate whether a polyphenol-rich pomegranate fruit extract (POMx) inhibits the inflammatory activity of activated human mast cells and basophils," the researchers wrote. "The aim of this study was to examine whether POMx modulates inflammatory reactions using human basophilic cell line KU812."
Mast cells play a role in immune function and in healing the body from injury.
The researchers first stimulated these cells with a chemical known as PMACI in order to produce an inflammatory response. Then they dosed them with pomegranate extract.
They found that after receiving pomegranate extract, the cells began producing significantly lower levels of the inflammation-linked cytokines IL-6 and IL-8.
"POMx or POMx-derived compounds may be of value for the treatment of inflammatory diseases in which mast cells play an active role," the researchers wrote.
Pomegranate extract also appeared to inhibit activation of a gene complex known as nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB).
NF-kB plays a role in regulating healthy immune responses, and malfunction of the complex has been linked to autoimmune disease, improper immune development and viral infection.