Effect of Pomegranate on Cancer Formation and Growth
By Ronnie Cortez
While pomegranate is best known for heart health,1,2 additional studies reveal its potential to help guard against cancer.3-6
Scientists have determined that compounds found in pomegranate can deter cancer formation and progression.
Pomegranate contains compounds that circumvent functional changes involved in malignant cell transformation. In preclinical studies, it stopped cancer cells from growing and spreading.4,5
Pomegranates contain compounds that have a positive impact on health.
These include punicalagin, luteolin, ellagitannins, and assorted polyphenols that can impede many steps involved in the formation, growth, and spread of cancer. 4,5
Rather than preventing cancer by a single mechanism, pomegranate blocks many different targets. A primary mechanism is to inhibit inflammation.
Pomegranate accomplishes this by turning off genes related to inflammation, such as reducing activity of pro-inflammatory NF-kappaB.9,10
Such actions can help to prevent the formation of cancer cells. In one study, pomegranate significantly reduced the formation of tumor growths in the lungs of mice exposed to cigarette smoke over a long period of time.11
It also reduced cancer formation in the breast tissue of mice exposed to a known carcinogen (DMBA), a type of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon found in cigarette smoke and overcooked meat.12,13
What You Need to Know
Pomegranate and Cancer
Pomegranate contains several beneficial compounds with powerful anti-cancer properties.
It has been shown to interfere with pathways that promote the development of cancer, while also contributing to mechanisms that inhibit the growth and spread of existing cancer.
Studies show that pomegranate holds promise in the fight against cancers of the prostate, breast, colon, liver, lung, and more.
Pomegranate has also been shown, in preclinical studies, to boost the effectiveness of certain chemotherapy drugs while protecting against their harmful side effects.
How Pomegranate Fights Cancer
In addition to preventing cancer from developing, in preclinical studies, pomegranate has shown multiple effects that help block the growth of existing cancer cells and prevent them from spreading. These effects include:4,5
Blocking the cell cycle: Pomegranate can shut off a cancer cell’s ability to divide, limiting its growth by affecting multiple genes related to the cell cycle (the cell’s pattern of growth). However, it does not block healthy cells from dividing normally.
Inducing cell death: Compounds in pomegranate directly cause cancer cells to die by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death).
Stopping new blood vessels that feed cancer: Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels. Cancer cells require new blood vessels in order to support their growth with an ample blood supply. Pomegranate blocks growth factors related to angiogenesis, which limits the formation of new blood vessels in tumors.
Preventing cancer spread: Cancer cells are often able to separate from other cells and migrate through tissues, eventually spreading to distant organs in the body. Pomegranate limits a cancer cell’s ability to spread by affecting gene expression related to invasion, migration, and metastasis.
Taken together, the various compounds found in pomegranate appear tailor-made for preventing cancer and reducing its spread by attacking these diseased cells at many steps of their development and growth.
Pomegranate and Prostate Cancer
There are promising studies on pomegranate’s anti-cancer actions against prostate cancer, the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men in the U.S.6,14
One study showed that a prominent polyphenol (called punicalagin) found abundantly in pomegranate blocks the growth of human prostate cancer cells, while also inducing cell death by apoptosis.15
In another study, a pomegranate extract initiated prostate cancer cell death by apoptosis.16 It also limited the ability of these cells to migrate, suggesting it can help prevent the spread of prostate cancer.
In a study published in the journal Carcinogenesis, researchers implanted human prostate cancer cells into mice with impaired immune function.17
They found that pomegranate compounds (luteolin, punicic acid, and ellagic acid) significantly inhibited the growth and spread of highly invasive prostate tumors.
Specifically, the tumors from treated mice were approximately 25% smaller.
The tumors metastasized in 5 out of 7 mice that did not receive the pomegranate supplement. None of the mice receiving the pomegranate compounds experienced tumor spread.
Some of the most exciting research on pomegranate demonstrates its ability to slow the increase of PSA, a blood protein that is a marker of the progression of prostate cancer as well as an indicator of response to treatment.
One study evaluated the effect of pomegranate juice on PSA levels in men after they had been treated for prostate cancer.7
All patients had rising levels of PSA prior to intervention, an indication that their cancer was very likely progressing. But following supplementation with pomegranate, the rate of PSA increase was slower.
This suggests that pomegranate slowed cancer growth.
A subsequent study confirmed the finding that pomegranate extract slowed the rate at which PSA levels increased.8
More human studies are urgently needed.
Pomegranate and Breast Cancer
Preclinical studies using pomegranate have demonstrated effects against breast cancer.
Research shows that pomegranate can prevent breast cancer cell growth, induce cancer cell death, block inflammation, and reduce the potential for breast cancer cells to spread.4
Pomegranate may also prevent the initial formation of breast cancer. In one study, researchers administered a cancer-causing toxin to rats to induce breast cancer.10 They found that supplementation with pomegranate blocked many of the harmful effects of the toxin. This included altering pathways in cells related to inflammation and oxidative stress.
An extract of pomegranate was also found to prevent the migration of breast cancer cells and to induce cell death.18
Additional Anti-Cancer Effects
In addition to targeting pathways that promote breast and prostate cancer, pomegranate has demonstrated, in preclinical studies, beneficial effects against several other types of cancer.
Studies confirm pomegranate’s anti-cancer activity in cell and animal models of leukemia, as well as in cancer of the bladder, brain, cervix, colon/rectum, liver, lung, ovaries, skin, and thyroid.4,5,19,20
Pomegranate is also being explored as an adjuvant to conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy. It has been shown to bolster the effect of such treatments, while also offering protection against some of their deleterious side effects.21
For example, a chemotherapy drug called fluorouracil is commonly used in the treatment of various forms of cancer. This drug often causes side effects, such as damaging the lining of the intestines.
A study in rats revealed that combining a pomegranate extract with fluorouracil protected the intestinal lining from fluorouracil-induced injury.21 The combined treatment also enhanced the cancer-killing effect of the drug, killing more cancer cells than using chemotherapy alone.
Pomegranate contains compounds that attack cancer cells in cultures by several different mechanisms.
Its anti-inflammatory properties may help reduce the risk of developing cancer.
In preclinical and animal models, pomegranate has been shown to reduce existing cancer cell growth, induce cell death, prevent blood vessel growth associated with tumors, and inhibit the spread of cancer cells in the body.
Pomegranate shows promise to help combat some of the most common types of cancer and may potentially boost the effectiveness of existing cancer chemotherapy treatments. More research clearly needs to be done.
Individuals concerned about cancer should consider adding a pomegranate extract (standardized to 30% punicalagins and 22% punicic acid) to their supplement regimen.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
Sahebkar A, Ferri C, Giorgini P, et al. Effects of pomegranate juice on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pharmacol Res. 2017 Jan;115:149-61.
Wang D, Ozen C, Abu-Reidah IM, et al. Vasculoprotective Effects of Pomegranate (Punica granatum L.). Front Pharmacol. 2018;9:544.
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Pantuck AJ, Leppert JT, Zomorodian N, et al. Phase II study of pomegranate juice for men with rising prostate-specific antigen following surgery or radiation for prostate cancer. Clin Cancer Res. 2006 Jul 1;12(13):4018-26.
Paller CJ, Ye X, Wozniak PJ, et al. A randomized phase II study of pomegranate extract for men with rising PSA following initial therapy for localized prostate cancer. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2013 Mar;16(1):50-5.
Cheng X, Yao X, Xu S, et al. Punicalagin induces senescent growth arrest in human papillary thyroid carcinoma BCPAP cells via NF-kappaB signaling pathway. Biomed Pharmacother. 2018 Jul;103:490-8.
Mandal A, Bhatia D, Bishayee A. Anti-Inflammatory Mechanism Involved in Pomegranate-Mediated Prevention of Breast Cancer: the Role of NF-kappaB and Nrf2 Signaling Pathways. Nutrients. 2017 Apr 28;9(5).
Husari A, Hashem Y, Zaatari G, et al. Pomegranate Juice Prevents the Formation of Lung Nodules Secondary to Chronic Cigarette Smoke Exposure in an Animal Model. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017;2017:6063201.
Kim ND, Mehta R, Yu W, et al. Chemopreventive and adjuvant therapeutic potential of pomegranate (Punica granatum) for human breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2002 Feb;71(3):203-17.
Mehta R, Lansky EP. Breast cancer chemopreventive properties of pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit extracts in a mouse mammary organ culture. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2004 Aug;13(4):345-8.
Sharma P, McClees SF, Afaq F. Pomegranate for Prevention and Treatment of Cancer: An Update. Molecules. 2017 Jan 24;22(1).
Adaramoye O, Erguen B, Nitzsche B, et al. Punicalagin, a polyphenol from pomegranate fruit, induces growth inhibition and apoptosis in human PC-3 and LNCaP cells. Chem Biol Interact. 2017 Aug 25;274:100-6.
Deng Y, Li Y, Yang F, et al. The extract from Punica granatum (pomegranate) peel induces apoptosis and impairs metastasis in prostate cancer cells. Biomed Pharmacother. 2017 Sep;93:976-84.
Wang L, Li W, Lin M, et al. Luteolin, ellagic acid and punicic acid are natural products that inhibit prostate cancer metastasis. Carcinogenesis. 2014 Oct;35(10):2321-30.
Bagheri M, Fazli M, Saeednia S, et al. Pomegranate peel extract inhibits expression of beta-catenin, epithelial mesenchymal transition, and metastasis in triple negative breast cancer cells. Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand). 2018 May 30;64(7):86-91.
Liu H, Zeng Z, Wang S, et al. Main components of pomegranate, ellagic acid and luteolin, inhibit metastasis of ovarian cancer by down-regulating MMP2 and MMP9. Cancer Biol Ther. 2017 Dec 2;18(12):990-9.
Wang SG, Huang MH, Li JH, et al. Punicalagin induces apoptotic and autophagic cell death in human U87MG glioma cells. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2013 Nov;34(11):1411-9.
Chen XX, Lam KK, Feng YB, et al. Ellagitannins from Pomegranate Ameliorates 5-Fluorouracil-Induced Intestinal Mucositis in Rats while Enhancing Its Chemotoxicity against HT-29 Colorectal Cancer Cells through Intrinsic Apoptosis Induction. J Agric Food Chem. 2018 Jul 11;66(27):7054-64.