Underworld fruit for the heart

Pomegranate juice reverses the development of atherosclerosis at the level of gene activation, report researchers in Italy and the US. The discovery suggests that treating at-risk patients with antioxidant polyphenols in the juice could halt disease progression.

The study, led by Claudio Napoli at the University of Naples, is welcomed by Michael Aviram, head of the Lipid Research Laboratory at Rambam Medical Center and the Technion Faculty of Medicine in Haifa, Israel. Aviram was the first to demonstrate the beneficial effects of red wine on cholesterol oxidation, and later reported that pomegranate juice offers potent protection against cardiovascular disease.

Atherosclerosis is enhanced in arteries exposed to disturbed flow. Perturbed shear stress increases the expression of oxidation-sensitive responsive genes (including ELK-1 and p-JUN) in the endothelial cells that line blood vessels, and decreases the expression of endothelial NO synthase (eNOS). Napoli's team showed that pomegranate juice reduced the activation of ELK-1 and p-JUN and increased eNOS expression in cultured human endothelial cells and in a mouse model.

Aviram's team found the pro-atherosclerotic activity of cells closely associated with atherosclerosis development - macrophage foam cells - is inhibited by the antioxidant activity of pomegranate juice.

'It is possible that [those] anti-atherosclerotic characteristics.are mediated by the antioxidant effect of pomegranate juice due to an increase in nitric oxide, the molecule that is mostly responsible for vasodilatation and cardiovascular protection,' said Aviram.

Bea Perks


F de Nigris et alProc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 2005, 102, 4896