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Pomegranate: Nature's Oldest Ultraviolet Protection

By: Howard Murad, MD
Posted: June 23, 2008, from the June 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Pomegranates are, by far, one of the oldest natural remedies known to man. Before there was medicine, there was food, and pomegranates top the list of ancient healing benefits.

As a native plant of Northern Africa, pomegranate (Punica granatum L.) was written about in 1552 B.C. in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus—the oldest and most important medical document yet recovered—and widely used by Egyptian physicians. The document contains more than 700 remedies for treating disease, and pomegranate was one of the most popular ingredients in the formulas. Physicians in Greece prescribed pomegranate juice as a treatment for arthritis, circulation disorders, viruses and digestive problems.

Fast-forward to the present day, and pomegranate is widely utilized as a key ingredient in juice drinks, bath products, and skin and sun care products. More importantly, this exotic fruit has captured the attention of the scientific community, due to the high content of potent antioxidants called polyphenols.

Potent defense

Pomegranates contain an important polyphenol called ellagic acid, which is a powerful free radical scavenger. It is extremely effective in increasing the body’s own built-in antioxidant glutathione, which, in turn, helps protect the DNA in cells from free radical damage. Glutathione also is essential in helping the body to recycle hormones such as estrogen, which aid in protecting skin cells.

Ellagic acid, along with other polyphenols, inhibits the formation of harmful enzymes that cause cells to grow out of control. This is important in maintaining normal cell division, whereas unpredictable cell division can lead to cancer. By inhibiting specific enzymes, ellagic acid and other polyphenols regulate cell turnover and give the cell time to divide normally and form completely. Ellagic acid also is thought to strengthen the cell membrane, making it less susceptible to free radical damage and preventing water loss from the cell.

Pomegranate and SPF