Move over red wine and green tea, there is a new cancer-busting sheriff in town.
Research is mounting on the pomegranate’s health benefits and the news looks very promising. This unassuming fruit has shown to suppress inflammatory cell signaling proteins in colon cancer and prostate cancer and has other remarkable anti-tumor-promoting effects in skin cancer.
Now researchers at University of Wisconsin–Madison have shown consuming pomegranates could potentially help reduce the growth and spread of lung cancer cells—or even prevent lung cancer from developing.
In 2008, Hasan Mukhtar, PhD and co-leader of the Cancer Chemoprevention Program at the University of Wisconsin Paul P. Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center demonstrated that drinking pomegranate fruit extract helps slow the growth of lung cancer in mice.
It’s too early to know if pomegranate juice will have the same effects on humans as it does in mice, but Mukhtar is very optimistic. “These recent findings expand the possible health benefits of the fruit to the leading cause of preventable cancer death in the country and worldwide: lung cancer,” he said.
Lung cancer has increased at alarming rates in the last decade, particularly because of upward global trends in smoking. Lung cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in the world, marginally behind colorectal cancer, representing about 28 percent of all cancer deaths, according to Lung Cancer: Global Incidence, Prevalence and Mortality to 2015. This year alone, lung cancer is expected to account for an estimated 12.5 percent of all new cancer cases in the leading economies.
In addition, physicians have found lung cancer difficult to control with conventional therapeutic and surgical approaches, and the prognosis is poor with an overall five-year survival rate of 10-14 percent in the United States. While more men than women die from lung cancer globally, statistics show lung cancer death rates for U.S. women are among the highest in the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
The pomegranate fruit isn’t exactly treading in unfamiliar territory here. It has been used for centuries in ancient cultures for medicinal purposes. The fruit is consumed raw or in a juice extract. The key to the pomegranate’s cancer-fighting capabilities lies in its abundance of antioxidants that have an anti-inflammatory effect. In fact, researchers say pomegranate juice has higher levels of antioxidants than do red wine and green tea, which have also been investigated for their potential cancer prevention effects.
In the study, researchers examined the effect of eating pomegranate fruit extract on the growth, progression, blood-vessel development and signaling pathways in two mouse lung tumor models. The dosages tested were comparable to what humans could reasonably consume in a day. Chemicals were used to induce lung tumors, and the mice received pomegranate extract in drinking water. Lung tumor yield was then examined at different times during several months. Mice who were exposed to cancer-inducing chemicals and who were treated with pomegranate had significantly lower lung tumor growth than mice treated with carcinogens only. Tumor reduction was 53.9 percent at 84 days and 61.6 percent at 140 days.
Researchers believe delaying the process of lung cancer development could be an important strategy to control this disease. Mukhtar says the novel approach of using fruits and vegetables endowed with cancer-fighting properties are perhaps, the best way to achieve this goal.
Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues, she writes a blog, Nonsmoking Nation, which follows global tobacco news and events.