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Published on December 17th, 2010 | by Michael Ricciardi


Cancer-Fighting Compounds Discovered in Pomegranate Juice

Like predators following prey, cancer cells migrate to other locations in the body, taking over the machinery of key cells, then killing them. This is known as metastasis. In some cancers like prostate cancer, the cells can migrate into the bone, where they exploit stem cell activity, proliferate, and eventually, spread throughout the body. The effects are, of course, lethal. Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men in the United States.

Stopping this from happening, or at least slowing it done considerably, has been a long-time goal of many cancer researchers. Hormone suppression therapies have been developed that inhibit testosterone, but eventually, cancer cells develop resistance to this treatment, and continue to metastasize.

But recently, a graduate team of cell biologists at the University of California Riverside, led by Professor Manuela Martins-Green, were able to isolate and identify several components of pomegranate juice that seem to keep cancer cells stuck together, inhibiting their migratory tendencies.

Manuela Martins-Green is a professor of cell biology at UC Riverside.

The team treated in vitro (cultured) prostate cancer cells that were resistant to the male hormone with a pomegranate juice extract. Analysis showed that cells which survived the treatment showed increased cell adhesion. This increased cell adhesion works counter to metastasis, which is one major way that a cancer survives and avoids the body’s immune responses.

The actively anti-metastatic compounds identified in pomegranate juice are: phenylpropanoids, hydrobenzoic acids, flavones and conjugated fatty acids. Saturated forms of the latter compounds can contribute to clogging of the arteries, but, by that same capacity, apparently, inhibit cancer cells from spreading by keeping them stuck together.

Cancer cells are able to metastasize to specific organs by following certain molecular signals, or chemo-attractants, secreted by cancer cells as they migrate away from the initial site of the cancer. In the case of prostate-to-bone metastasizing, the cancer cells are attracted to a protein signal in the bone.  Fortunately, as a dual benefit, these pomegranate compounds seem to interfere with this chemical signaling between cancer cells and the bone protein.

The UC Riverside team is planning on conducing in vivo research (i.e., on a living patient, or animal model) in the not too distant future.

The team’s research results were presented recently (Dec. 12, 2010)  at the 50th annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology, in Philadelphia.

Detail from Madonna of the Pomegranate by Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1487 (Uffizi Gallery, Florence).

The pomegranate figures symbolically in many ancient myths (such as the Greek myth of Persephone) and was one of the first fruits brought to Moses as proof that the promised land was indeed fruitful.  It’s astringent juice has been prized since ancient times as a medicinal treatment for diarrhea, dysentery and intestinal parasites. The pomegranate is also utilized in the Indian Ayurvedic health system (based upon the four classical elements), where it is associated with fire (pitta), due to its acidic qualities, and is used to protect the heart and throat. The name is Greek for “apple seeded”.

top image: Illustration by Otto Wilhelm Thomé, 1885

photo: Manuela Martins-Green, UC Riverside; UCR Strategic Communications.

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About the Author

Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles as well as essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, Arthur Shapiro, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website ( He is also the author of the (Kindle) ebook: Artful Survival ~ Creative Options for Chaotic Times

  • Martin Miller

    Pomegranate juice has been found to be both time and dose dependent on inhibiting some cancers. Every man who has prostate cancer or wishes to avoid prostate cancer should consume a minimum of 8 ounces a day. Sure it costs a bit of money, but you sure as heck DONT want to go through what I have gone through. I have cancer. I have done the research.
    best wishes

    • Zachary Shahan

      Thanks. Appreciate it.

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