Pomegranate Health Benefits: The pomegranate is a superfood with insane health benefits. The pomegranate is a fleshy berry and a great source of fiber, Vitamin C & K, iron, and potassium. They are also rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Many studies in humans indicate that pomegranates are an excellent defense against several diseases. They also contain the precursor to a powerful “anti-aging” molecule called Urolithin A.
The most significant source of its antioxidative properties is a chemical called punicalagin – a member of the family of ellagitannins found in the EDIBLE portion of the fruit. When we eat a pomegranate, our gut bacteria convert ellagitannins into Urolithin A.
To understand why Urolithin A slows down the aging process, we need to look at how our muscles age. 90% of our energy stems from microscopic structures in our cells called mitochondria. The cells in your body contain billions of tiny mitochondria. You can think of them as mini-batteries. Our bodies need to repair and sometimes replace defective, damaged, and old mitochondria for our body to work well. When mitochondria are damaged or defective, they self-destruct through a process called mitophagy, and once this happens, your cells make brand new mitochondria. During this process, dysfunctional and toxic elements in our cells are recycled or eliminated.
Pomegranate Health Benefits
When we are younger, the mitophagy process happens more often. But when the process of mitophagy slows down, toxins may not be recycled or removed fast enough; this makes our body’s cells age faster, including muscle. Studies on humans and animals reveal that in the elderly, walking slower and poor muscle strength is associated with poor mitochondrial function. Improving mitophagy in older people has been shown to slow muscle strength decline from aging.
Maintaining a regular exercise regimen triggers the production of new mitochondria and boosts energy in our skeletal muscle cells when we age. A study found that Urolithin A promoted mitophagy, produced more mitochondria, and helped improve mitochondrial function in elderly individuals. These effects of Urolithin A mimicked how a regular exercise regimen benefits our muscles and helps us retain energy even when we are older.
Additionally, several rat and animal studies show that Urolithin A increased endurance levels in young and old rats by improving muscle health.
So what does that mean that Urolithin A and exercise combined have an even greater effect? Probably, but this is still an unknown. The effect of Urolithin A on humans is underway, and early results look promising.
Our gut is a collection of digestive organs that includes the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, or colon. There are a hundred trillion bacteria in our digestive systems. Having a diverse range of good bacteria in our gut is extremely healthy, and they are collectively known as gut microbiome or gut flora. Our gut microbiome regulates our immunity, prevents inflammation, fights against diseases, produces important vitamins, helps our body absorb nutrients from our food, and creates and regulates essential hormones. Not only that, but good gut health also affects our sleep, memory, moods, and mental health.
When digested, pomegranates act as a prebiotic. After digesting a pomegranate, some breakdown products include gallic acid, ellagic acid, and glucose. Bacteria in the colon then convert that into something called Urolithin A. So these natural substances keep our gut microbiome healthy – similar to a prebiotic. Prebiotics are fiber-rich plant foods that promote the growth of good bacteria in our gut. Urolithin A promotes the growth of good bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli while suppressing harmful bacteria like Clostridia.
However, there’s a catch.
Much of our gut microbiome composition is determined at birth. And many lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol, a bad diet, and too much exposure to antibiotics can hurt our gut bacteria.
Suppose someone doesn’t have the right gut bacteria to make Urolithin A from ellagitannins. In that case, they cannot access the anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties of Urolithin A. More Urolithin A-related studies are underway to determine the benefits of ingesting Urolithin A directly so even people who cannot produce Urolithin A naturally can reap its benefits.
Doctor Mike Hansen, MD
Internal Medicine | Pulmonary Disease | Critical Care Medicine
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