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Pomegranate power

Pomegranate's antioxidant capacity may be one of a handful of reasons it could help with both exercise performance and recovery. This recent clinical trial put pomegranate extract to the test by exploring its effects in cyclists.

Study under review: Pomegranate Extract Improves Maximal Performance of Trained Cyclists after an Exhausting Endurance Trial: A Randomised Controlled Trial.

Introduction

The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a ruby red fruit thought to confer widespread health benefits. Generally, pomegranate arils (the fleshy part surrounding the seeds) or the juice of the fruit are consumed while the husk of the fruit is discarded. Polyphenols[1] are among the most common phytochemicals found in the pomegranate, with the husk being especially rich in phenolic acids and tannins. Polyphenolic compounds have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory[2] properties. In the pomegranate, a polyphenol called punicalagin[3] is believed to be the most prominent source of these activities. Punicalagin releases ellagic acid[4] upon hydrolysis, which also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The past decade has seen a rapid accumulation of investigations into the putative cardio-protective, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic activities of pomegranate[5] components. However, these studies are preliminary in nature and almost exclusively performed in rodents or human cell lines. In cardiovascular studies, pomegranate juice consumption has been shown to reduce various indicators of cardiovascular disease[6], including mean arterial blood pressure, thickness of the carotid wall, triglyceride levels and low-density lipoprotein oxidation, and atherosclerotic lesion size. The anti-inflammatory function of punicalagin has been demonstrated in a rat model[7] and in lipopolysaccharide-treated mouse macrophages[8]. Furthermore, pomegranate juice and extract have shown[5] anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects in animal and cell culture models of prostate, breast, lung, and skin cancer. Although evidence suggests that pomegranate may contribute positively to one’s health, much of it remains to be confirmed by high-quality human trials.

Given its antioxidant properties, the pomegranate is an intriguing food for investigation in the context of athletic activity, as exercise-induced oxidative stress[9] can hinder performance and muscle recovery. The randomized controlled trial under review joins a handful of other scientific investigations[10] into the pomegranate’s potential utility as an ergogenic aid.

Pomegranate phytochemicals have antioxidant properties that have been examined in tissues and animals, but are less well studied in humans. These properties suggest that pomegranate may have utility in exercise science as an ergogenic aid.

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Other Articles in Issue #55 (May 2019)