A symbol of righteousness in Judaism and widely believed to be a great antioxidant, the pomegranate can now boast of another virtue – preventing heart disease. A recent study from the Technion – Israel’s Institute of Technology – has shown that pomegranates significantly reduce the risk of heart disease caused by high cholesterol levels.
Professor Michael Aviram and his research team have shown that when combined with a low dose of statins (traditional cholesterol-lowering drugs), pomegranate helps offset atherosclerosis, the formation of cholesterol deposits in artery walls that can block blood flowing to the heart and brain, and its consequences – heart attack or stroke.
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Getting rid of side-effcts
Statins are given to people with high LDL (“bad cholesterol”) levels, in order to hinder the production of cholesterol in the body and lower its levels in the blood. But while statin therapy effectively lowers cholesterol levels in patients diagnosed with heart and cardiovascular diseases, it has only modest effect on curbing cholesterol oxidation, another factor in developing atherosclerosis.
Aviram says that his team was also looking for a treatment that would avoid the negative side effects of statins, mainly significant muscle pains.
“Our job is to provide treatment to lower blood cholesterol levels and to delay cholesterol oxidation,” says Professor Aviram. “Antioxidants, sourced mainly in plants (in fruit and vegetable peels) are used to treat cholesterol oxidation,” he adds.
Finding the right combination
“In another study, we found that the addition of cholesterol-like molecules found in fruits and vegetables, called phytosterols, can lower blood cholesterol through a natural mechanism different from that of statins – one which naturally hinders cholesterol absorption, thus reducing blood cholesterol levels,” explains Aviram. “However, we observed that phytosterols catalyzes the oxidation of cholesterol, and hence phytosterols should be administered together with effective antioxidants.”
Pomegranates contain both phytosterols and very powerful antioxidants. “Therefore, concentrates of pomegranate juice can delay the oxidation of cholesterol, and in addition, it lowers cholesterol levels, without causing unwanted side-effects reported by patients taking high statin doses,”Aviram says.
The study, published this month in the scientific journal Atherosclerosis, was conducted by Aviram and his research team from the Technion’s Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and the Rambam Health Care Campus.