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Pomegranate juice may prevent pregnancy complications

Washington University School of Medicine research shows pomegranate juice given during pregnancy may help prevent some health issues in babies

April 5, 2013

Pomegranate juice and seeds

Pomegranate juice may hold promise for preventing preeclampsia, growth restriction and preterm birth when given to women during pregnancy, according to a recent Washington University study.

The laboratory study found that pomegranate juice limits injury in human placental tissue and in isolated human cell cultures. More specifically, the juice, which is high in polyphenolic antioxidants, compounds that protect against cell death, reduced stress and death of human fetal and placental cells that were grown in culture.

Cells exposed to such stimuli as a low oxygen atmosphere, or chemicals that simulate low oxygen, survived more frequently when exposed to pomegranate juice compared to a sugar placebo.

Related: Breast milk linked to significant early brain growth in preemies

Preemies fed mostly breast milk had larger brains by their due dates than those who consumed small amounts or none

The researchers reported their findings in the American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Stress and cell damage

The cells in our body undergo what’s called oxidative stress. This happens when there is an increase in free radicals, compounds that damage cells. Antioxidants, compounds such as those found in pomegranate juice, protect against free radicals. In complicated pregnancies, elevated oxidative stress has been shown to contribute to problems with the placenta, which often causes complications such as preeclampsia, a condition where the mother suffers from high blood pressure. Placental problems in pregnant women may also lead to lower weight babies and preterm birth. Women give birth to babies who have problems related to placental issues in five to 10 percent of pregnancies worldwide.

Maternal-fetal medicine specialist Michael Nelson, MD, PhD is senior author on a study that pomegranate juice may have a protective effect against certain pregnancy complications.
Maternal-fetal medicine specialist Michael Nelson, MD, PhD.

“These results are very exciting,” says senior author Michael Nelson, MD, PhD, maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Virginia S. Lang Professor and vice chair of  Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine. “My hope is that giving pomegranate juice to women with high-risk pregnancies late in their first trimester or early in their second trimester will help them have healthier babies.”

In this study, pregnant women were randomly selected at 35-38 weeks into the pregnancy to be given either 8 ounces a day of pomegranate juice or a placebo (apple juice) until delivery. Placental tissues from 12 patients (four in the pomegranate group and eight in the placebo group) were collected for analysis of oxidative stress.

The researchers extended their work to include studies of oxidative stress and cell death in cell cultures where placental tissue samples and cultured human fetal cells were exposed to pomegranate juice or a placebo.

Nelson and his colleagues now are conducting a blinded study of 40 pregnant women with growth-restricted babies identified in the second half of pregnancy. They are being given either pomegranate juice or a placebo from the time of diagnosis and enrollment until delivery, which usually occurs preterm because of malfunction of the placenta.

“If this works, it could help thousands of women and babies each year,” Nelson says.