Pomegranate season is coming soon. This once unknown fruit has become a brain food superstar. As an Arab-Canadian boy, I grew up eating pomegranate seeds in rosewater while watching Hockey Night in Canada. Back then, I was the only kid on my street who ate that fruit, but pomegranate is everywhere now.
Its first big break came from a study published in 2004 which showed that blocked arteries were reversed in people who drank pomegranate juice for a year. This includes the tiny arteries in the brain that can affect memory and cognition. Later trials showed improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol and other markers of vascular health. An Israeli study showed that it helped people on dialysis, and a pomegranate pill even reduced inflammation in people with arthritis.
A fascinating new chapter in the Pom story was just published in Nature Medicine. Swiss researchers described dozens of experiments suggesting that pomegranate has a unique healing effect on mitochondria. This is largely the work of urolithin A, a compound that is made by the gut bacteria that live inside us. They create it from the ellagitannins found in this delightful fruit.
It seems that urolithin works by getting rid of weak, tired mitochondria that build up as we age. Better mitochondria led to better muscle function in older mice, but it may also be what prevents toxic amyloid protein from clumping up and killing brain cells in dementia. One mouse study found that mice fed pomegranate had healthier brains with fewer signs of Alzheimer’s. This may be partly because neurons are full of mitochondria, and they depend on them for energy.
Like with most fruits, the most powerful stuff in pomegranate is found in the peel. While the medicine can be found in the fruit itself, the peel and other parts of it contain even more. New research is targeting better methods to extract these medicines and put them into a new generation of pomegranate pills that will surely hit the stores before too long.
For now, if you want to use pomegranate as a brain food, I recommend the fruit or the juice. About 4 ounces of juice 3 times per week have delivered results in clinical trials. Alternatively, you could eat two pomegranates per week. You could do this for about three months every year during its growing season. We freeze the seeds and put them in our smoothies year-round.