Pomegranates, fruit of Persephone, fight cancer

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EATING pomegranates could help prevent certain types of breast cancer, according to scientists behind new research.

The experts say the fruit contains naturally occuring chemicals that reduce the likelihood of getting hormone-dependent breast cancer.

Three-quarters of breast cancers are thought to be hormone dependent – fuelled by the hormone oestrogen.

Pomegranates contain a naturally occuring chemical, known as a phytochemical, called Ellagic acid, which prevents cancer cells developing.

"Phytochemicals suppress oestrogen production that prevents the proliferation of breast cancer cells and the growth of oestrogen-responsive tumours," said principal investigator Shiuan Chen, director of the Division of Tumuor Cell Biology and co-leader of the Breast Cancer Research Programme at City of Hope in Duarte, California.

He added that he was "surprised" by the findings.

Professor Gary Stoner from the Department of Internal Medicine at Ohio State University, believes the results are promising enough to warrant more experiments with pomegranate in animals and humans.

Until then, Prof Stoner said people "might consider consuming more pomegranates to protect against cancer development in the breast and perhaps in other tissues and organs".

However, he warned that the study was carried out in a laboratory and the results may not be the same in humans.

And Dr Laura Bell, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, urged caution.

"It's too big a leap to conclude from this early-stage research that eating pomegranates could help prevent hormone-dependent breast cancer as the study was done using large amounts of purified chemicals on cells grown in the lab.

"In terms of cancer prevention, most foods contain many natural chemicals and we need to understand the combined effect of these when processed in the body to guess what influence, if any, a specific food may have on your chance of developing cancer."

Previously pomegranates have been hailed as a super-food for being able to protect against heart conditions because the fruit is so high in antioxidants.

The ancient fruit also has a long association with mythology. In Greek mythology, Persephone, the goddess of agriculture, was offered a seed of the fruit by Hades.

Tempted by its jewel-like appearance, she took it, thereby condemning herself to spending part of every year in the underworld.

The study was published in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.