Home / Specialties / Nephrology / Pomegranate Juice Helps Kidney Patients

Pomegranate Juice Helps Kidney Patients

Dec 3, 2010

Researchers in Israel report that there could be some truth to some of the many health claims for pomegranate juice, at least for kidney patients on dialysis….

They found that such patients who drank a few cups of the tart liquid every week lowered their chances of infections, the second-leading killer of the more than 350,000 Americans on dialysis. 

Dr. Frank Brosius, who heads the nephrology division at the University of Michigan Health System and was not involved in the research commented that, “It’s a very intriguing study, and I certainly don’t know of anything else that would have such a profound effect,” cautioning at the same time that the study needed to be replicated.

The results come in the wake of a U.S. crackdown on allegedly false advertising by POM Wonderful, which claims its pomegranate products can help everything from heart disease to prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

The Israeli researchers, led by Dr. Batya Kristal of Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, used a brand that was ranked highest in polyphenol antioxidants.

“Pomegranate juice was shown in the last three years to contain the highest levels of polyphenols among a variety of products,” Dr. Kristal said. “Much higher than red wine, for instance.”

The researchers figured an antioxidant-rich diet might help patients with kidney failure, because the level of free radicals in their blood increases as the blood circulates through the dialysis device.

In the study, 101 patients were randomly assigned to either a concoction without pomegranate juice, or the real thing. After downing about half a cup three times a week over a year, those who drank the real thing had a reduction of inflammatory molecules in their blood. They also made fewer trips to the hospital.

“We found significant reductions in hospitalization due to infections, with more than 40% reduction in the first hospitalization and 80% in the second,” said Dr. Kristal. However, only the reduction in the risk of a second visit to the hospital was statistically significant.

According to the findings, among 50 patients drinking pomegranate juice for a year, about two would have to go to the hospital at least twice. By comparison, that number would be nearly 11 in patients not drinking the juice. Dr. Kristal said her team had found no side effects, but she cautions that pomegranate juice has a high potassium content.

Dr. Brosius was skeptical of the benefits, although he said the juice was unlikely to cause harm.

“I would prefer to see this validated at other centers before we come out and say this is the thing to do,” he said. Even if the findings hold up, he said, it is still unclear what accounts for them. “Who the heck knows what the active ingredients are?”

Marion Nestle, a nutrition expert at New York University, said the effects might not be unique to pomegranate juice. “The effects of juice were compared to a placebo, not to any other kind of juice that might have exactly the same effect.”

The findings were presented last week at the American Society of Nephrology’s meeting in Denver and have not yet been vetted by independent experts.