March 12, 2021

A Pomegranate a Day? Recent Study Shows Pomegranate Extract Can Change Biochemistry of Prostate Tumors, Possibly for the Better

Step aside apples. A team of researchers from the UW Carbone Cancer Center has found that a daily dose of pomegranate fruit extract may keep the doctor away – at least for men with prostate cancer.

In a recent phase II clinical trial, half of a group of 29 men with low-risk prostate cancer took a pill of pomegranate fruit extract every day for a year.  Prostate biopsy tissue samples from the participants were collected, as part of standard care, at the beginning and end of the trial. For the men who took the pomegranate supplement, the researchers found meaningfully lower levels of biochemical markers that can be associated with DNA damage and prostate cancer progression.

In other words, the pomegranate extract appeared to change the biochemistry of the men’s prostate and prostate tumors for the better.

Prostate cancer is a disease that can progress slowly. It might take years after an initial diagnosis for prostate cancer to become a meaningful risk to a person’s health. For people at early stages of the disease, therapies that can delay or prevent more invasive treatments like surgery or radiation therapy would be appealing. That’s where this study comes in.

Though the jewel-toned pomegranate has long been lauded as a health-promoting food and earlier studies suggested it might have a beneficial role in cancer prevention, this study is the first reported randomized and placebo-controlled clinical trial to evaluate how the daily supplements of pomegranate fruit extract affects patients with prostate cancer.

The study, which was published in the journal The Prostate last August, looked at levels of different chemicals and other biochemical markers in prostate tissues of men with prostate cancer, comparing the results for men who took a daily dose of pomegranate fruit extract with men took a placebo pill.

In the patients who took the extract, the researchers found that they had less of a chemical called 8-OHdG in prostate tissues than the men in the placebo group. This chemical is associated with DNA in cells that are damaged – the sort of damage that might cause a cancer to get worse. The researchers also found lower levels of androgen receptors, which support prostate cancer growth, in the tissues of patients who took the pomegranate supplement.

David Jarrard, MD, is a Professor of Urology and Molecular and Environmental Toxicology and a Carbone Cancer Center member who co-led the study. While Jarrard finds the results of the study promising, he cautions that the team hasn’t shown that pomegranates are necessarily a silver bullet for prostate cancer.

“The big question with prostate cancer prevention is ‘Are the substances the patients are given even getting to the prostate?’ And this would appear to be proving that ‘Yes, pomegranate was having an effect on the prostate,’” Jarrard said.

More studies over a longer time will be required to see if these changes lead to a reduced risk of more severe prostate cancer.

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