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Prostate Cancer, Nutrition, and Dietary Supplements (PDQ®)

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General Information and History
Preclinical Studies/Animal Studies
Human Studies
        Current Clinical Trials
Adverse Effects


This section contains the following key information:

General Information and History

The pomegranate (Punica granatum L.) is a member of the Punicaceae family native to Asia (from Iran to northern India) and cultivated throughout the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, East Indies, Africa, and the United States.[1] The history of the pomegranate goes back centuries—the fruit is considered sacred by many religions and has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times.[2] The fruit is comprised of peel (pericarp), seeds, and aril (outer layer surrounding the seeds). The peel makes up 50% of the fruit and contains a number of bioactive compounds, including phenolics, flavonoids, and ellagitannins, and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium. Arils are mainly composed of water and also contain phenolics and flavonoids. Anthocyanins, which are flavonoid present in arils, are responsible for the fruit's and its juice’s red color.[3] The majority of antioxidant activity comes from ellagitannins.[4]

Research studies suggest that pomegranates have beneficial effects on a number of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease,[5] and may also have positive effects on oral or dental health.[6]

Preclinical Studies/Animal Studies

Research studies in the laboratory have examined the effects of pomegranate on many prostate cancer cell lines and in rodent models of the disease.

In vitro studies

Ellagitannins (the main polyphenols in pomegranate juice) are hydrolyzed to ellagic acid, and then to urolithin A (UA) derivatives. According to a tissue distribution experiment in wild-type mice, the prostate gland rapidly takes up high concentrations of UA after oral or intraperitoneal administration (0.3mg/mouse/dose). Ellagic acid was detected in the prostate following intraperitoneal, but not oral, administration of pomegranate extract (0.8mg/mouse/dose).[7]

Treating human prostate cancer cells with individual components of the pomegranate fruit has been shown to inhibit cell growth.[8-11] In one study, dihydrotestosterone -stimulated LNCaP cells were treated with 13 pomegranate compounds at various concentrations (0-100 µM).[9] Four of the 13 compounds, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), delphinidin chloride, kaempferol, and punicic acid, exhibited an ability to inhibit cell growth in a dose-dependent manner. Treating cells with EGCG, kaempferol, and punicic acid further resulted in apoptosis, with punicic acid (the primary constituent of pomegranate seeds) being the strongest inducer of apoptosis. Additionally, findings from this study suggest that punicic acid may activate apoptosis by a caspase-dependent pathway.[9]

Pomegranate extracts have also been shown to inhibit the proliferation of human prostate cancer cells in vitro.[10,12,13] In one study, three prostate cancer cell lines (LNCaP, LNCaP-AR, and DU-145) were treated with pomegranate polyphenols [punicalagin (PA) or ellagic acid (EA)], a pomegranate extract (POMx, which contains EA and PA), or pomegranate juice (PJ, which contains PA, EA, and anthocyanins) in concentrations ranging from 3.125 to 50 µg/mL (standardized to PA content). All four treatments resulted in statistically significant increases in apoptosis and dose-dependent decreases in cell proliferation in the three cell lines. However, PJ and POMx were stronger inhibitors of cell growth than were PA and EA. In this study, the effects of PA, EA, POMx, and PJ on the expression of androgen -synthesizing enzyme genes and the androgen receptor were also measured. Although statistically significant decreases in gene expression occurred in LNCaP cells following treatment with POMx and in DU-145 cells following treatment with EA and POMx, significant decreases in gene expression and androgen receptor occurred in LNCaP-AR cells following all of the treatments.[10] In another study, treating PC3 cells (human prostate cancer cells with a high metastatic potential) with POMx (10-100 µg/mL) resulted in cell growth inhibition and apoptosis, both in a dose-dependent manner. Treatment of CWR22Rv1 cells (prostate cancer cells that express the androgen receptor and secrete PSA) with POMx (10-100 µg/mL concentrations of pomegranate fruit extract) led to the inhibition of cell growth, a dose-dependent decrease in androgen receptor protein expression, and dose-dependent reductions in PSA protein levels.[13]

The enzyme cytochrome P450 (CYP1B1) has been implicated in cancer development and progression. As a result, CYP1B1 inhibitors may be effective anti-carcinogenic targets. In a study reported in 2009, the effects of pomegranate metabolites on CYP1B1 activation and expression in CWR22Rv1 prostate cancer cells were examined. In this study, urolithins A and B inhibited CYP1B1 expression and activity.[14]

In addition, the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system has been implicated in prostate cancer. A study reported in 2010 examined the effects of a POMx on the IGF system. Treating LAPC4 prostate cancer cells with POMx (10 µg/mL concentration of pomegranate extract prepared from skin and arils minus seeds) resulted in cell growth inhibition and apoptosis, but treating the cells with both reagents led to larger effects on growth inhibition and apoptosis. However, these substances may have induced apoptosis by different mechanisms. Other findings suggested that POMx treatment reduced mTOR phosphorylation at Ser2448 and Ser2481, whereas IGFBP-3 increased phosphorylation at those sites. In addition, CWR22Rv1 cells treated with POMx (1 and 10 µg/mL) exhibited a dose-dependent reduction in IGF1 mRNA levels, but treatment with IGFBP-3 or IGF-1 did not alter levels of IGF1; these results suggest that one way POMx decreases prostate cancer cell survival is by inhibiting IGF1 expression.[12]

In a study reported in 2011, human hormone -independent prostate cancer cells (DU145 and PC3 cell lines) were treated with 1% or 5% PJ for times ranging from 12 to 72 hours. The results showed that treatment with PJ increased adhesion and decreased the migration of prostate cancer cells. Molecular analyses revealed that PJ increased the expression of cell-adhesion related genes and inhibited the expression of genes involved in cytoskeletal function and cellular migration. These findings suggest that PJ may be beneficial in slowing down or preventing cancer cell metastasis.[15]

Animal studies

The effects of pomegranate on prostate cancer have been examined using a number of rodent models of the disease. In one study, athymic nude mice were injected with tumor-forming cells. Following inoculation, animals were randomly assigned to receive normal drinking water or PJ (0.1% or 0.2% POMx in drinking water, which resulted in an intake corresponding to 250 or 500 mL of PJ per day for an average adult human). Small, solid tumors appeared earlier in mice drinking normal water only than in mice drinking PJ (8 days vs. 11-14 days). Moreover, tumor growth rates were significantly reduced in mice drinking PJ compared with mice drinking normal water only. Animals drinking PJ also exhibited significant reductions in serum PSA levels compared with animals drinking normal water only.[13] In other studies, treatment with a POMx resulted in decreased tumor volumes in SCID mice that had been injected with prostate cancer cells.[7,16]

Similarly, when nude mice were injected with pomegranate seed oil (2 µg/g body weight), pomegranate pericarp (peel) polyphenols (2 µg/g body weight), or saline 5 to 10 minutes prior to being implanted with solid prostate cancer tumors, mice injected with the pomegranate extracts had significantly smaller tumor volumes compared with the mice injected with saline (P < .001).[8]

In another study, which was reported in 2011, 6-week-old transgenic adenocarcinoma of the mouse prostate (TRAMP) mice received normal drinking water or PJ (0.1% or 0.2% POMx in drinking water) for 28 weeks. The results showed that 100% of the mice that received water only developed tumors by 20 weeks of age, whereas just 30% and 20% of the mice that received 0.1% and 0.2% PJ, respectively, developed tumors. By 34 weeks of age, 90% of the water-fed mice exhibited metastases to distant organs whereas only 20% of the mice that received pomegranate juice showed metastasis. The PJ-supplemented mice exhibited significantly increased life spans compared to the water-fed mice.[17]

Human Studies

In a study reported in 2006, researchers observed the effects of PJ on PSA values in prostate cancer patients (N = 48) who had rising PSA levels following treatment with surgery or radiation therapy. The study participants drank 8 ounces of PJ daily (570 mg/day total polyphenol gallic acid equivalents) for up to 33 months. Drinking PJ was associated with statistically significant increases in PSA doubling time (PSADT). After 33 months of follow-up, the median PSADT increased from 11.5 months to 28.7 months (P < .001). In addition, LNCaP cells were treated in vitro with the subjects’ serum before and after the PJ intervention. Results of the in vitro experiments showed a decrease in cell growth and an increase in apoptosis following PJ treatment.[18]

A phase II study evaluated 1-g and 3-g doses of pomegranate extract in 104 men with rising PSA values following initial therapy for localized prostate cancer.[19] The study reported that pomegranate extract was associated with a greater than 6-month increase in PSA doubling time in both treatment arms, without adverse effects.

Current Clinical Trials

Check NCI’s list of cancer clinical trials for CAM clinical trials on pomegranate-extract pill for prostate cancer, pomegranate juice for prostate cancer, and pomegranate liquid extract for prostate cancer that are actively enrolling patients.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

Adverse Effects

In a study of prostate cancer patients reported in 2006, the PJ intervention was well tolerated and no serious adverse effects were observed.[18]

In a pilot study reported in 2007, the safety of PJ in patients with erectile dysfunction was examined. No serious adverse effects were observed during this study, and no participant dropped out due to adverse side effects. In the analysis of the results, no statistical comparisons were made of the adverse side effects observed in the intervention arm and the placebo arm.[20]

  1. Jurenka JS: Therapeutic applications of pomegranate (Punica granatum L.): a review. Altern Med Rev 13 (2): 128-44, 2008.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  2. Langley P: Why a pomegranate? BMJ 321 (7269): 1153-4, 2000.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  3. Viuda-Martos M, Fernandez-Lopez J, Perez-Alvarez JA: Pomegranate and its many functional components as related to human health: a review. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf 9 (6): 635-54, 2010. Available online. Last accessed March 20, 2014. 

  4. Basu A, Penugonda K: Pomegranate juice: a heart-healthy fruit juice. Nutr Rev 67 (1): 49-56, 2009.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  5. Aviram M, Rosenblat M, Gaitini D, et al.: Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation. Clin Nutr 23 (3): 423-33, 2004.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  6. Menezes SM, Cordeiro LN, Viana GS: Punica granatum (pomegranate) extract is active against dental plaque. J Herb Pharmacother 6 (2): 79-92, 2006.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  7. Seeram NP, Aronson WJ, Zhang Y, et al.: Pomegranate ellagitannin-derived metabolites inhibit prostate cancer growth and localize to the mouse prostate gland. J Agric Food Chem 55 (19): 7732-7, 2007.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  8. Albrecht M, Jiang W, Kumi-Diaka J, et al.: Pomegranate extracts potently suppress proliferation, xenograft growth, and invasion of human prostate cancer cells. J Med Food 7 (3): 274-83, 2004.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  9. Gasmi J, Sanderson JT: Growth Inhibitory, Antiandrogenic, and Pro-apoptotic Effects of Punicic Acid in LNCaP Human Prostate Cancer Cells. J Agric Food Chem 58 (23): 12149-56, 2010.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  10. Hong MY, Seeram NP, Heber D: Pomegranate polyphenols down-regulate expression of androgen-synthesizing genes in human prostate cancer cells overexpressing the androgen receptor. J Nutr Biochem 19 (12): 848-55, 2008.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  11. Lansky EP, Jiang W, Mo H, et al.: Possible synergistic prostate cancer suppression by anatomically discrete pomegranate fractions. Invest New Drugs 23 (1): 11-20, 2005.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  12. Koyama S, Cobb LJ, Mehta HH, et al.: Pomegranate extract induces apoptosis in human prostate cancer cells by modulation of the IGF-IGFBP axis. Growth Horm IGF Res 20 (1): 55-62, 2010.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  13. Malik A, Afaq F, Sarfaraz S, et al.: Pomegranate fruit juice for chemoprevention and chemotherapy of prostate cancer. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 102 (41): 14813-8, 2005.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  14. Kasimsetty SG, Bialonska D, Reddy MK, et al.: Effects of pomegranate chemical constituents/intestinal microbial metabolites on CYP1B1 in 22Rv1 prostate cancer cells. J Agric Food Chem 57 (22): 10636-44, 2009.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  15. Wang L, Alcon A, Yuan H, et al.: Cellular and molecular mechanisms of pomegranate juice-induced anti-metastatic effect on prostate cancer cells. Integr Biol (Camb) 3 (7): 742-54, 2011.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  16. Sartippour MR, Seeram NP, Rao JY, et al.: Ellagitannin-rich pomegranate extract inhibits angiogenesis in prostate cancer in vitro and in vivo. Int J Oncol 32 (2): 475-80, 2008.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  17. Adhami VM, Siddiqui IA, Syed DN, et al.: Oral infusion of pomegranate fruit extract inhibits prostate carcinogenesis in the TRAMP model. Carcinogenesis 33 (3): 644-51, 2012.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  18. Pantuck AJ, Leppert JT, Zomorodian N, et al.: Phase II study of pomegranate juice for men with rising prostate-specific antigen following surgery or radiation for prostate cancer. Clin Cancer Res 12 (13): 4018-26, 2006.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  19. Paller CJ, Ye X, Wozniak PJ, et al.: A randomized phase II study of pomegranate extract for men with rising PSA following initial therapy for localized prostate cancer. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis 16 (1): 50-5, 2013.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  20. Forest CP, Padma-Nathan H, Liker HR: Efficacy and safety of pomegranate juice on improvement of erectile dysfunction in male patients with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study. Int J Impot Res 19 (6): 564-7, 2007 Nov-Dec.  [PUBMED Abstract]