The use of pomegranate seed oil, has been increased due to its reported health benefits and its unique properties to fight skin cancer.
It is a clear-yellow to reddish oil and has the characteristic aroma and taste of pomegranate fruit.
Pomegranate seed oil can be obtained by cold pressing of crushed seeds or CO2 extract of seeds.
Conjugated fatty acids contained in pomegranate seed oil, of which punicic acid (a conjugated isomer of α-linolenic acid) is the most common and beneficial, have shown through different research an extensive list of therapeutic benefits for both internal and external health conditions.
In this article we will delve deeper into the importance of this magnificent vegetable oil, which is not only useful as a carrier oil, but is also a rich source of interesting pharmacological resources and therefore, a great ally to improve our health.
About Pomegranate (Punica granatum L.)
Pomegranate is a long-lived and drought-tolerant plant. Its only genus is Punica, with one predominant species called Punica granatum. Pomegranate is categorized as a berry but it belongs to its own botanical family, Punicaceae. Pomegranate is one of the first domesticated fruits that has been cultivated from past times.
Punica granatum is indigenous to Iran and neighboring countries, and gradually developed in central Asia regions to Himalaya, Eyalet of Anatolia, Middle East, and Mediterranean area.
It also thrive in Arizona and California, and has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region, South Asia, and the Middle East countries. Kandahar in Afghanistan is famous for its high-quality pomegranate.
Today, pomegranate is cultivated in most regions of the world, including Iran, Spain, Italy, Afghanistan, USA, India, China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Morocco, and Greece. However, Iran is one of the biggest producers of pomegranate in the world. The Iranian provinces of Markazi, Yazd, Fars, Khorasan and Kerman, have the highest production rates.
Pomegranate is a shrub that reaches to 1.5m (5ft) to 5m (17ft) in height, with more or less irregular and thorny branches and glossy leaves, that appears as a deciduous shrub in temperate regions, and as evergreen in frigid regions.
Punica granatum L. belongs to the Punicaceae family which is the smallest plant family that exists. It has 1 genus and 2 species, including the following:
- Punica granatum (edible pomegranate): is indigenous to Iran and Mediterranean regions.
- Punica protopunica (inedible): is endogenous to Socotra islands in Pacific Ocean.
Other characteristics of pomegranate are:
Leaves: Leaves are seen as reciprocal in newly grown branches and as integrated in spores.
Flowers: 1-5 flowers, one of them terminal and the rest marginal, short or without peduncle, their color is red and rarely yellow or white, odorless, and two-sex.
Fruit: Balausta in light red color to greenish yellow and rarely in some species dark purple. It is 5 to 20 cm in diameter and its weight varies from less than 200 g to more than 800 g.
Seed: Seeds are produced in high amounts, are triangular, albumin free, and embedded in aril.
When the seeds are crushed and dried they produce a unique oil, 80% of which is punicic acid, a rare 18-carbon fatty acid.
The oil also contains the isoflavone genistein (found in soy beans), and the phythoestrogen coumestrol. Besides, it is one of the only plants in nature known to contain the sex steroid estrone.
Pomegranate in History
Based on excavations of the Early Bronze Age (3500–2000 BC), it is believed that pomegranate was one of the first cultivated fruits for its beneficial properties.
Pomegranate was held sacred by the major religions of the world and nations. In the Quran, pomegranate has been described as a paradise fruit and symbol of insurgence, and in Christianity, as a life everlasting.
In China, on the other hand, pomegranate is widely represented in art symbolizing fertility, posterity, abundance, numerous and virtuous offspring, and a blessed future. It was also a symbol of invincibility in battle by the Persians.
Chemical Composition of Pomegranate Seed Oil
About 18% of dried and cleaned white pomegranate seeds are oil. The oil is rich in punicic acid, which is a triple conjugated 18-carbon fatty acid, an omega-5 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid. Punicic acid has several studies that support, for example, its use as a chemopreventative agent for breast cancer.
Linoleic, palmitic, oleic, stearic, and arachidic acids are also present, although in smaller amount.
Pomegranate oil also contains vitamins such as C, B1, B2, and beta-carotene. In addition, there are some phytoestrogen compounds in pomegranate seeds that have sex steroid hormones similar to those in humankind. The 17-alpha-estradiol is a mirror-image version of estrogen.
Summarizing, major chemical constituents of pomegranate seed oil include:
- Fatty acids (as triglycerides ∼88%)
- Fatty acids (as diacylglycersols ∼7%)
- Fatty acids (as phospholipids ∼3%)
- Punicic acid (∼65%)
- Linoleic acid (7%)
- 22:0 Docosanoic acid (1.3%)
- 24:0 Tetracosanoic acid (1.4%)
- Campesterol (0.1%)
- Stigmasterol (0.1%)
- β-Sitosterol (1%)
- γ-Tocopherol (Vitamin E) (1%)
- 17-α-estradiol (0.3%)
Properties of Pomegranate Seed Oil
Pomegranate seed is one of the most valuable food wastes mainly obtained from pomegranate juice industry. It has 12–25% crude oil which is rich in bioactive lipids.
Besides, it contains tocopherols, phytosterols and punicic acid, which have several potential health benefits. Punicic acid, constitutes between 67% to 85% of the total fatty acid content in the oil.
The main properties of pomegranate seed oil are as follows: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, nephroprotective, hepatoprotective, neuroprotective, anti-pancreatitis, anti-cancer, anti-tumor, immunomodulatory, enhancing carbohydrate metabolism, reducing insulin resistance, anti-atherosclerotic, antidiabetic, antiobesity and serum lipid-lowering.
Also, pomegranate seed oil is a great anti-aging when applied on the skin.
Uses of Pomegranate Seed Oil
For over 4,000 years, human beings have cultivated pomegranate for its medicinal properties. Juice, seeds, leaves, flowers, bark and roots of pomegranate have several therapeutic effects, among them: lowering fever, treating diabetes, anthelmintic, anti-diarrhea, blood tonic, stopping the bleeding, and healing ulcers.
Pomegranate juice and seeds oil, are helpful in the treatment of stomach-ache, inhibiting herpes and influenza viruses, and suppressing the reproduction of some cancer cells.
In addition, pomegranate seed oil is as a potent natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, both internally and externally.
Topical application of pomegranate seed oil is helpful to soothes dermal inflammations such as acne, sunburn, psoriasis, and rosacea. Besides, it helps accelerate wound healing.
Pomegranate seed oil favors health of skin by supporting cellular regeneration (specifically in the epidermis).
On the other hand, pomegranate seed oil improves skin elasticity, revitalizing to premature aging or sun damaged skin. It is a great beneficial emollient for dry skin conditions.
Benefits of Pomegranate Seed Oil
It has been demonstrated that monotherapy or supplementation therapy with pomegranate see oil may have protective effects against several diseases, including cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, neurotoxicity, mouth and skin disorders, pancreatitis, and osteoporosis.
These effects act possibly due to the high antioxidant activity of pomegranate oil. Therefore, it is recommended that, pomegranate seed oil can be a very beneficial medicine for treatment and protection of certain diseases and disorders, although probably underlying mechanisms of this protection need further explorations.
Some of the investigated health benefits of pomegranate seed oil include:
Solar ultraviolet radiations are the primary causes of many biological effects such as photoaging and skin cancer. These radiations resulted in DNA damage, protein oxidation, and matrix metalloproteinases induction.
Pomegranate seed oil was investigated for possible skin cancer chemopreventive efficacy in mice.
As a result, topical applications of pomegranate oil (5%), significantly decreased the incidence of skin tumor development.
Overall, the results highlight the potential of pomegranate seed oil as a safe and effective chemopreventive agent against skin cancer.
Natural Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant
Oxidation dependent mechanisms are very important ways to induce diseases such as several types of cancers and inflammatory diseases. Reduction-oxidation state may activate and deactivate certain genes that promotes many secondary steps in disease conditions.
Genes involved in carcinogenesis, atherosclerotic mechanisms, diabetic changes and HIV replication are some of them.
Antioxidant properties of pomegranate seed oil have proven effectiveness in anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective activities.
Thus, it has the capacity of facing nephrotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, cardiotoxicity, and neurotoxicity, which are the main examples of interference of oxidative stress that triggers illness.
Postmenopausal osteoporosis is mostly caused by increased bone remodeling resulting from estrogen deficiency. Hormone replacement therapy is used to prevent osteoporosis, but it increases the risk for breast cancer, thromboembolism, strokes, and heart attacks.
Pomegranate seed oil extract is rich in phytoestrogen and antioxidant compounds, which makes it an encouraging natural alternative in these cases.
A 2017 research, carried out in forty female western albino rats, showed that pomegranate seed oil has therapeutic effects on osteoporosis, while it has no adverse effects on lipid profile, uric acid, liver and kidney functions when compared to hormone replacement therapy.
Pomegranate seed oil offers a promising alternative in the design of new strategies in nutritional management of age-related bone complications.
Investigating nephroprotective effects of pomegranate seed oil (PSO) was carried out mainly by Boroushaki et al. In five separated studies.
Four nephrotoxic agents, mercuric chloride, diazinon, gentamicin, and hexachlorobutadien and cis-platin (under publication) were used and as a result, protective effect of pomegranate seed oil was shown.
Elevated serum levels of urea and creatinine and urinary levels of glucose and protein as well as histopathological changes in kidney, such as severe tubular necrosis and atrophy, represented acute nephrotoxicity by use of these toxic agents.
Inducing oxidative stress by these agents was shown in above mentioned studies by elevated kidney malondialdehyde content (MDA, as a biomarker of oxidative stress) and decreased total thiol content in the kidney.
The use of PSO in these models of nephrotoxicity was accompanied by its protective effects and pomegranate oil preserved renal functions and decreased histopathological changes in kidney.
Restoration of serum urea and creatinine and decrease in urine glucose and protein were established after PSO treatment. Increasing in total thiol content was seen but was not dose dependent in all studies.
Kidney was vulnerable to oxidative stress and each factor that induces this state can be a toxic agent on this organ. Pomegranate seeed oil, due to its high content of polyphenolic compounds, is a potent antioxidant. Moreover, hydroxybenzoic acid derivatives and sterols in the oil have an antioxidant effect and decrease lipid peroxidation.
Diabetes type 2
Diabetes is one of the most prevalent diseases in the worldwide. Type 2 diabetes mellitus, the most common form of the disease, has become a serious threat to public health and is a growing burden on global economies.
Due to the unexpected adverse effects of antidiabetic medicines, the use of nutraceuticals as a complementary therapy has drawn extensive attention by investigators.
In this issue, a novel nutraceutical, Punicic acid (the main ingredient of pomegranate seed oil), that has potential therapeutic effects in type 2 diabetes mellitus, has been investigated.
Punicic acid is a peroxisome proliferator‐activated receptor gamma agonist, and unlike synthetic ligands, such as thiazolidinediones, it has no side effects. Punicic acid exerts antidiabetic effects via various mechanisms, such as reducing inflammatory cytokines, modulating glucose homeostasis, and antioxidant properties.
Inhibitory activities of prostaglandin as well as antioxidant activity of polyphenols extracted from both pomegranate seed oil and its fermented extract have widely been reported for prevention from human breast cancer.
Also, inhibitory impact of the watery and oily parts of the fruit has been reported on breast cancer cells in vivo. Such parts prohibit the activity of enzymes responsible for active estrogen biosynthesis (17-β-estradiol). Since the watery and oily parts of the fruit are chemically different, they probably act via different mechanisms in the prevention of cancer.
Pomegranate seed oil is considered as biosynthesis inhibitor E2 (17-β-estradiol) catalyzed by 17-β-hydroxysteroid enzyme. It also prevents invasion of cancer cells and also can strengthen and encourage apoptosis.
Extracted polyphenols of pomegranate seed oil can potentially prevent cyclo-oxygenase activity; however, these activities were not observed in the polyphenols of fermented extract. Inactivation of the mentioned enzyme prevents the proliferation of breast cancer cells, its severity, and also the transformation of mammals’ alveoli tissue (milk-producing units) to cancer mode.
γ-Tocopherol is the most important constituents of pomegranate seed oil that is responsible for anti-cancer activity. Jiang et al. investigated that, γ- tocopherol, inhibits proliferation of prostate cancer cells but appears to have no effect on the growth of a normal prostate epithelial cell.
Another study performed by Jiang et al. γ-tocopherol inhibited cyclooxygenase activity in macrophages and epithelial cells. This mechanism is beneficial for human tumor tissues, including human colon cancer.
A similar study showed a significant role for induction of cell death for all cancer cell lines such as colon cancer, prostate carcinoma cells, and osteosarcoma.
In another research pomegranate seed oil via lipid peroxidation mechanism, showed a cytotoxic effect against leukemia cells.
Effects on Memory
Polyphenols have been found to possess antioxidant properties, and recent studies indicated that seed oil extract of pomegranate has the highest concentration of polyphenols.
Sarkaki et al. in their in vivo study demonstrated that, administration of pomegranate seed oil in permanent cerebral ischemia causes a remarkable improvement on memory with criterion condition responses.
The results showed that, both active and passive avoidance memories were meaningfully impaired in rats after cerebral hypoxia-ischemia, and pomegranate oil treatment significantly ameliorated passive and active memory impairments with bilateral common carotid arteries occlusion.
Gabizon et al., on the other hand, reported that administration of large concentrations of pomegranate oil may postpone the manifestation of disease in young transgenic mice.
In addition, lower doses of Nano-pomegranate seed oil, significantly delayed disease onset in asymptomatic mice and postponed disease aggravation in already sick mice. Therefore, pomegranate oil formulations may be impressive on neurodegenerative diseases.
In the following link you will find detailed information on the mentioned benefits of pomegranate seed oil:
Obesity and weight loss
More recently, positive effects on fat reduction have been shown using pomegranate and its extracts. Many of the beneficial effects are related to the presence of anthocyanins, tannins, very high levels of antioxidants, including polyphenols and flavonoids.
Several studies have explored the effects of pomegranate on obesity, and various mechanisms have been proposed as to how these different extracts help in fat reduction.
The high fat diet with 1% pomegranate seed oil was administered for 12 weeks to induce obesity and insulin resistance in mice.
As a result, the pomegranate seed oil-fed group exhibited lower body weight (4%) and body fat mass (3.1%) compared with only high fat diet-fed mice.
In addition, a clear improvement was observed in peripheral insulin sensitivity (70%) in pomegranate seed oil-administered rats.
Treating Menopausal Symptoms
In the folk medicine of Mediterranean countries and in ancient Ayurveda, pomegranate seeds have been used for treatment of various disorders, including those that nowadays are classified as menopausal symptoms.
Pomegranate seed oil mainly contains unsaturated fatty acids such as γ-linoleic acid and linolenic acid, but it also includes phytoestrogens. It is, therefore, regarded as a promising option for treating menopausal symptoms today.
Studies have investigated the potential effects of pomegranate seed oil on menopausal symptoms, which were significantly and relevantly reduced. For example, hot flushes changed from 2.32 ± 1.04 to 1.41 ± 1.07.
Remarkably, urogenital tract symptoms (ie, a dry vagina) also significantly improved, moving from 1.32 ± 1.43 to 0.85 ± 1.19.
Few patients reported gastrointestinal symptoms. The tolerability was excellent at 3.69 ± 0.71 after 4 wk of treatment and 3.71 ± 0.65 after 8 wk of treatment.
Pomegranate seed oil did not affect the hormone status, and no adverse effects were reported.
In postmenopausal women, pomegranate oil does not significantly reduce hot flashes within a 12-week observation period, but further studies are needed to investigate the long-term effect.
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Benefits for Skin
Aging of the skin is accompanied by thinning of the epidermis and a concomitant loss of dermal connective tissue.
The loss of connective tissue elements including types I and III collagen in aged skin, evidence a progressive MMP-mediated connective tissue destruction (occurring over decades) and a late-stage sharp decline in synthesis of replacement collagen.
Pomegranate seed oil has estrogenic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and natural antimicrobial properties on our skin. In addition, it improves elasticity, moisturizes and protects the skin from ultraviolet rays.
It can be used in acne-prone skin, since it has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial action, in addition, its comedogenic rating is 1, which means that it does not clog pores.
Several recent studies, including one conducted by the University of Michigan Medical School, have shown that pomegranate seed oil helps reverse visible signs of aging by promoting a moderate thickening of the epidermis and increasing dermal cell proliferation and collagen synthesis at the same time.
Pomegranate seed oil is commonly used in cosmetic products to revitalize dull or mature skin, reduce wrinkles, and to soothe minor skin irritations.
Aged/photo-aged skin bruises easily (e.g., senile purpura) and the chronic bruises often go on to form slow-healing ulcers. Similar detrimental changes are also observed in diabetic skin and in other conditions where the vasculature of the skin is compromised as well as following long-term corticosteroid use.
If the connective tissue of damaged skin can be repaired, it might be possible to delay or prevent the serious consequences that occur in the damaged tissue.
Phenolic compounds in pomegranate oil promote wound healing. Indian researchers noted that a topical pomegranate cream produced an average 35% reduction in the number of days required for complete recovery from an excision wound.
Warnings and Contraindications when using Pomegranate Seed Oil
Pomegranate seed oil is considered safe for both oral and topical application. However, there are a couple of precautions to consider.
This oil should not be used in people allergic to pomegranate or any of its components.
The daily and constant intake of pomegranate seed oil can mimic the action of estrogen, since it contains natural compounds called phytoestrogens that are used as hormone replacement therapy in women. Therefore, they can also have some hormonal side effects in high doses.
In addition, its consumption should be controlled if you are under medication for diabetes, some type of cancer or obesity, among others.
The dosage of pomegranate seed oil depends on the condition to be treated. It is advisable to consult a qualified professional for advice on the dose required for each case.
Where to Buy Pomegranate Seed Oil?
Normally, good quality oils, that is, 100% pure, cold press and not mixed with other substances, can be found in specialized natural herb stores.
If you can not reach a trusted naturist or herbalist shop near you, below you will find some recommendations:
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