Why drink plain old fruit juice when you can sip a reputed elixir instead? That's the pitch being used to sell pomegranate juice, available on grocery shelves. "Amaze your cardiologist," cries the Web site for one brand, POM Wonderful, which cites studies (mostly small, some company-funded, some on mice) suggesting that the stuff helps lower blood pressure and reduce arterial plaque build-up. Old Orchard, whose blueberry pomegranate juice is set to debut next month in Washington area stores, says the drink "promotes a healthy heart!" But doctors and dietitians have doubts.
Antioxidant Superpower? According to POM Wonderful, pomegranate juice is richer than most beverages in antioxidants -- chemicals that neutralize molecules implicated in diseases such as heart disease and cancer. "Cheat death," reads a POM Wonderful print ad, which began appearing last year in national magazines.
But efforts to prove that antioxidants can prevent diseases have had mixed results. For improving a person's health, said Arthur Frank, medical director of George Washington University's Weight Management Program, "there's no really compelling evidence that antioxidants make a difference."
Dean Ornish, who heads the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., recently presented findings to the American College of Cardiology on a POM Wonderful-funded study showing heart patients who drank pomegranate juice daily for three months had slightly greater blood flow to the heart than a control group. But that study and another said to show more gradual progression of prostate cancer in men who drank pomegranate juice than in those who did not have not yet been published.
The Fine Print Before you buy, you might want to read the label. Which fruit juice concentrate is listed first in Old Orchard blueberry pomegranate juice? Apple juice.
-- Ben Harder