Swiss researchers have established that tannins found in pomegranates are converted in the digestive system into a compound that appears to slow down mitochondrial aging — a natural process that weakens cells and causes loss of muscle mass and strength with the passing years.
Many health claims have been made for pomegranates over the years, and many have been disputed. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission and a U.S. federal court barred the POM Wonderful pomegranate juice company from advertising that its products could reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction — surely among the most outrageous product claims of all time.
Now, however, at least one health claim has been verified. Ellagitannins, substances found in a variety of fruits and nuts but particularly concentrated in pomegranates, are converted into a compound called urolithin A (UA) in the human gut. Skeletal muscles begin to weaken and lose strength and mass in humans over the age of 50 — but a new study has found that UA can stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis — in effect reversing the inevitable effects of aging on the cells.
In studying some 60 elderly participants, all in good health but sedentary, the researchers also found that UA had the same positive effects on cell health that exercise does. This will undoubtedly be good news to those living in the 50 American cities getting the least exercise.
The study was conducted by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, and a life science company called Amazentis, and published Monday in the journal Nature Metabolism.
Earlier studies of UA found that it increased the lifespan of nematode worms by 45% and that older mice showed 40% better endurance while running on a treadmill after two weeks of treatment. Building on such earlier trials, the new findings, according to Johan Auwerx, a professor at the EPFL lab involved in the new study, “really crystallize how UA could be a game-changer for human health.” Eating pomegranate may help, but avoiding these “harmless” habits that are actually aging you faster than you can imagine will help, too.