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July 2010 Pomegranates may reduce the risk from breast cancer

A very special characteristic of plants is their possibility to produce substances to protect themselves against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These substances, called phytochemicals, are bioactive molecules and it has been shown that they may have a crucial role in reducing the risk for cancer, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions. Consequently, there has been a lot of interest in phytochemicals and many studies on their protective capabilities are done [1, 2, 3, 4]. The most recent study with pomegranates reveals a new finding that suggest benefits of eating this fruit [5]. Based on results of this study, ellagitannins, a phytochemical in pomegranates fruit that work much like aromatase inhibitors, may reduce the risk from estrogen dependant breast cancer.

Main text:
Very often breast cancer is estrogen-dependent which means that cancer cells require female sex hormone to grow. Because of this, classes of drugs called aromatase inhibitors (AI) that block the synthesis of estrogen are used by medical doctors in attempt to slow the growth of estrogen sensitive breast tumors. Unfortunately, these drugs may have side effects such as hot flashes, severe joint pain, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, bone fractures and a potential risk of heart disease. However, a new research with plant based diet provides new and promising insight in breast cancer treatments.

According to results of a study published in the January issue of Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, pomegranates contain phytochemical known as ellagitannins that work much like aromatase inhibitors [5]. Authors of this study investigated whether phytochemicals in pomegranates can suppress aromatase and thereby inhibit cancer growth. They screened and analyzed 10 ellagitannin-derived compounds in pomegranates. The research team discovered these natural phytochemicals have the potential to prevent estrogen-driven tumors. Moreover, the researchers also stated that there is almost no reason to think that any cancer treatment derived from pomegranates would have harmful side effects since the fruit has long been safely consumed as a food.

This study was performed in experimental conditions on mice, and additional studies are needed in humans to confirm these results. Overall, a diet rich in plant foods will provide a milieu of phytochemicals with potent antioxidant and anticancer activities. Moreover, the overall benefit of this type of diet is attributed to the complex mixture of phytochemicals and nutrients present in whole foods.

By: Svetlana Obradovic and Luuk Simons

[1] Liu, R. H. (2003). Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78 pp. 217-20.

[2] Boyer, J., Liu, R. H. (2004). Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits. Nutrition Journal 3 pp. 1-15.

[3] Vincent, H. K., C. M. Borguignon, A. G. Taylor (2010). Relationship of the dietary phytochemical index to weight gain, oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight young adults. J Hum Nutr Diet 23 pp. 20-9.

[4] Russo, M., C. Spagnuolo, I. Tedesco, G. L. Russo (2010). Phytochemicals in Cancer Prevention and Therapy: Truth or Dare?. Toxins 2 pp. 517-51.

[5] Adams, L. S., Y. Zhang, N. P. Seeram, D. Heber, S. Chen (2010). Pomegranate Ellagitannin-Derived Compounds Exhibit Antiproliferative and Antiaromatase Activity in Breast Cancer Cells In vitro Cancer Prev Res 3 pp. 108-13.

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