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Pomegranates May Fight Breast Cancer

Phytochemicals in Pomegranates Stop Growth of Breast Cancer Tumors in Study
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 5, 2010 -- Eating pomegranates or drinking pomegranate juice may help prevent and slow the growth of some types of breast cancer.

A new study shows a group of phytochemicals called ellagitannins found in abundance in pomegranates inhibited the growth of estrogen-responsive breast cancer in laboratory tests.

“Phytochemicals suppress estrogen production that prevents the proliferation of breast cancer cells and the growth of estrogen-responsive tumors,” researcher Shiuan Chen, PhD, director of the Division of Tumor Cell Biology and co-leader of the Breast Cancer Research Program at City of Hope in Duarte, Calif., says in a news release.

Researchers say the ellagitannins in pomegranates work by inhibiting aromatase, which is a key enzyme used by the body to make estrogen and plays a key role in breast cancer growth.

“We were surprised by our findings,” Chen says. “We previously found other fruits, such as grapes, to be capable of the inhibition of aromatase. But phytochemicals in pomegranates and in grapes are different.”

Researchers say pomegranates have recently been hailed for their potential anti-cancer and heart healthy benefits thanks to their high antioxidant content. But they say this is the first study to look at their effects on aromatase and breast cancer growth.

In the study, published in Cancer Prevention Research, researchers examined the impact of 10 ellagitannin-derived compounds from pomegranates on aromatase activity and breast cancer cell growth in laboratory tests.

The results showed that of those 10 compounds, urolithin B most significantly inhibited breast cancer cell growth.

Experts say further studies will be needed to determine whether eating or drinking pomegranate-derived products will have the same effect in humans, but these results are promising.

“More research on the individual components and the combination of chemicals is needed to understand the potential risks and benefits of using pomegranate juice or isolated compounds for a health benefit or for cancer prevention,” Powel Brown, MD, PhD, chairman of the clinical cancer prevention department at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, says in a news release. Brown was not associated with the study.

Until then, researchers say people may consider eating more pomegranates to protect against cancer in the breast and perhaps other tissues and organs.

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