Risks and Benefits of Pomegranate Juice

While the actual pomegranate fruit has a short “in-season” window from October through January, you can find pomegranate juice in grocery stores year-round. Perhaps you’ve seen the iconic double-bubble shaped bottles — mimicking stacked pomegranate fruits — on supermarket shelves.

Is pomegranate juice good for you? What exactly is pomegranate juice? (Image: Angela Kotsell/iStock/GettyImages)

Whether you’re already a pomegranate juice fan or are considering trying it for the first time, there are many health benefits to drinking the Kool-Aid juice and a few potential risks to consider.

What Exactly is Pomegranate Juice?

Pomegranates have a long rich history dating back to 3500 BC with Queen Kubabab of Mesopotamia, where it’s said the fruit led to her “rise and longevity.” History also tells us that over the thousands of years, pomegranates and their juice were regularly used for a plethora of ailments from intestinal worms to morning sickness, and they even made their way into some infamous works of art.

The pomegranate itself is a unique fruit. Once you crack open the tough red exterior, you’ll find small arils, each made up of the fruity flesh and a seed. The juice comes from extracting the liquid from the flesh and removing the seed. But not all pomegranate juices are created equal. Make sure you look for 100% pomegranate juice versus a fruit juice with added pomegranate juice.

Pomegranates Are a Nutritional Powerhouse

An 8-ounce serving of pomegranate juice has about 150 calories, 38 grams of carbohydrates, less than one gram of protein and no fat. A glass of 100% pomegranate juice has no added sugar; the sweetness comes from the fruit itself. What’s more, a serving of pomegranate juice has about 500 milligrams of potassium, more than what is found in a medium banana. Potassium is an important important mineral for anyone trying to manage their blood pressure as it helps to flush excess sodium from the body.

Pomegranate juice is also loaded with antioxidants called polyphenols. The various parts of the pomegranate fruit have different types of antioxidants — the arils have anthocyanins (the same type found in cranberries and responsible for the red color) while the rind of the fruit and the pith (aka the spongey white parts) contain ellagitannins. Certain types of 100% pomegranate juice are made by pressing the entire pomegranate so a combination of the antioxidants is captured.

When it comes to antioxidant power, pomegranate juice beats out red wine, fruit juices, and teas. (Image: Twenty20/@criene)

6 Health Benefits of Pomegranate Juice

Antioxidants It can be a little confusing when talking about what antioxidants do exactly, and their relationship with free radicals and oxidation and so on. But at the very least, most of us are familiar with some sources of antioxidants — think red wine and chocolate — and we know that they’re a good thing.

Enter pomegranate juice. A 2008 UCLA in vivo study compared 100% pomegranate juice to other leading brands of ready-to-drink beverages like red wine, 100% fruit juices, and iced teas. When it came to antioxidant capacity, pomegranate juice came out on top, even ahead of other well-established antioxidant sources like green tea and red wine.

Heart Health
While there are many factors that come into play in cardiovascular disease, there are dozens of animal and human studies showcasing the many ways pomegranates and pomegranate juice helps to reduce the risk of this complex disease. To start, pomegranate juice has been shown through numerous studies to reduce triglycerides and harmful LDL-cholesterol levels while increasing beneficial HDL-cholesterol.

Pomegranate also has the following impact on our arteries: It improves elasticity of arteries, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis; it reduces levels of stress-induced ischemia; it reduces the thickness of carotid artery (related to vascular disease) and it may reduce the risk of heart disease in type 2 diabetic patients who have high blood cholesterol levels.

Inflammation Chronic inflammation (not to be confused with acute inflammation like bronchitis or an infected hangnail) is at the root of many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, etc. A 2012 study found that drinking about a cup of pomegranate juice per day reduced CRP and interleukin-6 levels (markers for inflammation) in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Cognition and Memory There are a number of animal studies showing the positive impact the polyphenols found in pomegranate juice have on memory and cognition. In addition, in 2013, a small small study found that by drinking a cup of pomegranate juice every day over the course of four weeks a significant improvement in verbal memory and overall results suggest pomegranate juice may play a role in improving memory function through task-related increases in functional brain activity.

Athletic Performance A recent study found that supplementing with pomegranate extract helped to improve strength for those in recovery two to three days post exercise. The thought is that the ellagitannins antioxidants found in pomegranate extract played a role.

Another recent study by the same group of researchers looked at strength and soreness after eccentric exercise. This type of exercise typically results in a significant reduction in strength (about 10 to 50%) with overall weakness for 4 to 14 days and a delayed-onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) peaking 24–48 hours post-exercise.

This small, randomized cross-over placebo-controlled study revealed that after elbow flexion and knee extension exercise when drinking pomegranate juice, subjects' elbow flexion strength post-exercise was significantly higher compared to the placebo group and elbow flexor muscle soreness was significantly less as well. There was no significant difference in knee flexion strength or muscle soreness post-exercise.

Additionally, potassium is important for muscle function and helping to maintain fluid balance in the body. Pure pomegranate juice provides about 500 milligrams of potassium per cup making it a great pre- or post-workout option.

Gut Health and the Microbiome Research using pomegranate extract and pomegranate juice suggests the two may promote the right balance of beneficial gut bacteria. In essence, the pomegranate components act like a prebiotic in the gut, creating a beneficial environment for probiotics to flourish. Preliminary research also shows that pomegranates may improve colon cancer outcomes.

Pomegranates act like a prebiotic in the gut, creating a beneficial environment for probiotics to flourish. (Image: alien185/iStock/GettyImages)

Are There Any Risks to Drinking Pomegranate Juice?

We hear mixed messages when it comes to juice. One common message is: Fruit juice is made from fruit (ideally), and it’s packed with vitamins and minerals, so therefore it's good for you. Another common message: Juice in general is full of sugar and lacks any fiber. So, is juice — and more specifically, pomegranate juice — good for you?

One of the common concerns about drinking pomegranate juice is the amount of sugar or carbohydrates the juice provides. Pure 100% pomegranate juice does not include any added sugars, all of the sugar is provided naturally is provided naturally by the fruit. Pomegranate juice is also a low glycemic beverage.

While research suggests pomegranate juice has cardiovascular benefits for those with diabetes and specific components found in the pomegranate fruit itself have been shown to potentially help manage blood glucose levels, more research is needed before recommendations can be made for those with diabetes.

Additionally, there have been a number of studies done on how drinking pomegranate juice may interfere with prescription medication. In vitro and animal studies reveal that pomegranate juice consistently inhibits CYP2C9 and CYP3A4, two enzymes key in the metabolism of certain medications, therefore potentially increasing the bioavailability of these prescription drugs.

However, human studies have contradictory findings suggesting that pomegranate juice does not increase exposure to either CYP2C9 or CYP3A4 substrates. It’s important to talk with your doctor about any potential interactions pomegranate juice may have with any medications you are taking.

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