for National Geographic News
In the mythology of ancient Babylonia, pomegranate was considered an agent of resurrection. Now there is scientific evidence for the fruit's restorative powers.
According to a new study, antioxidants contained in pomegranate juice may help reduce the formation of fatty deposits on artery walls. Antioxidants are compounds that limit cell damage.
Scientists have tested the juice in mice and found that it combats hardening of the arteries (atherogenesis) and related diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes.
"In this experimental study, we have established that polyphenols [antioxidant chemicals] and other natural compounds contained in the pomegranate juice may retard atherogenesis," said Claudio Napoli, a professor of medicine and clinical pathology at the University of Naples, Italy.
The research is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Pomegranate (Punica granatum) is native to a region ranging from Iran to the Himalaya. It later spread to the Mediterranean area and now grows in most of the United States.
The apple-size fruit, which grows on rounded plants 15 to 20 feet (4.6 to 6 meters) tall, contains a sack of seeds and a juicy pulp.
In ancient Greece pomegranate was known as the fruit of the dead. In Hebrew tradition pomegranates adorned the vestments of the high priest. Ancient Persians believed that pomegranate seeds made their warriors invincible. In China the fruit symbolized longevity.
Scientists have long known about health benefits of pomegranates. The latest study, in particular, shows that the juice limits the genetic tendency toward hardening of the arteries.
"The protective effects of pomegranate juice were higher than previously assumed," Napoli said.
The study was done at the University of Naples, Italy, and the University of California, Los Angeles.
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