Pomegranate juice claimed to aid those on dialysis

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-11-24 09:49
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There may be a seed of truth in the many health claims for pomegranate juice, researchers from Israel say, at least for kidney patients on dialysis.

They found that such patients who gulped a few cups of the tart liquid every week lowered their chances of infections.

The findings were presented at the American Society of Nephrology's meeting in Denver, United States, and have not yet been vetted by independent experts.

"It's a very intriguing study," says Dr Frank Brosius, who heads the nephrology division at the University of Michigan Health System and was not involved in the research.

"I certainly don't know of anything else that would have such a profound effect," he says, cautioning at the same time that the study needed to be replicated by other centers.

Dr Batya Kristal of Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, who led the research, says the juice ranked highest in polyphenol antioxidants, which can reduce cell damage caused by so-called free radicals.

Antioxidants are found in different levels in fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries or broccoli.

"Pomegranate juice was shown in the past three years to contain the highest levels of polyphenols among a variety of products," Kristal says. "Much higher than red wine, for instance."

The researchers figured an antioxidant-rich diet might help patients with kidney failure, because the level of free radicals in their blood increases as the blood circulates through the dialysis device. That, in turn, may rev up inflammation in their tissues.

In the study, 101 patients were randomly assigned to either a concoction without pomegranate juice, or the real thing.

After downing about half a cup three times a week over a year, those who drank the real thing had a reduction of inflammatory molecules in their blood. They also made fewer trips to the hospital.

"We found significant reductions in hospitalization due to infections, with more than 40 percent reduction in the first hospitalization and 80 percent in the second," Kristal says.

However, the researchers were only able to rule out chance as the cause of the reduction in the second visit to the hospital.

According to the findings, among 50 patients drinking pomegranate juice for a year, about two would have to go to the hospital at least twice. By comparison, that number would be nearly 11 in patients not drinking the juice.

Yet, the researchers say kidney patients should be aware of the high potassium content in the juice, given the delicate balance of nutrients in their blood, and talk to their doctor if they consider drinking it.

Brosius is skeptical of the benefits, although he says the juice is unlikely to cause harm. "I would prefer to see this validated at other centers before we come out and say this is the thing to do," he says.

Even if the findings hold up, he says, it is still unclear what accounts for them.

Marion Nestle, a nutrition expert at New York University, says the effects might not be unique to pomegranate juice. "Pomegranate juice - like most if not all fruit and vegetable juices - have antioxidant activity. Does this make pomegranates better than any other fruit? Investigators have yet to show this."