The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is perhaps best known for its tart taste and penchant for staining clothes. In the past several years, however, the flowering fruit has taken on a different image.
With much financial help from product marketer, and now ingredient supplier, POM Wonderful (Los Angeles), pomegranates are increasingly regarded as superfruits. Largely by its own doing, POM Wonderful can now report that “more people were introduced to pomegranate products last year than any year in history.”
Understandably, all kinds of marketers now want in on the fruit’s fortune, and there is opportunity for everyone—even dietary supplement and cosmetics manufacturers.
Inside of each pomegranate aril, or juice sac, is a seed made up of roughly 12–20% oil, by weight. The oil can fit inside of softgels, and it can be used in cosmetic products such as shampoos and lotions. As it happens, this oil has exciting nutritional properties, too.
Like other parts of the pomegranate, pomegranate seed oil contains polyphenol antioxidants. Punicalagin and ellagic acid are some of the best characterized of these compounds, and they have shown potential to perform in positive ways, such as inhibiting UV-induced skin inflammation and inducing cancer cell death. Other compounds found in the seed oil, such as sterols, have also show potential in these broad areas of study.
It’s this antioxidative profile of pomegranate seed oil that is likely responsible for much of the ingredient’s success in skin care studies. Cellular studies now indicate that pomegranate seed oil can stimulate the production of keratinocytes, which work with fibroblasts to regenerate the skin. Non-seed components of pomegranate, however, may have direct effects on fibroblasts, so consuming the seed oil with other pomegranate fractions may offer synergistic benefits.
A much larger component of pomegranate seed oil is its punicic acid, making up about 80% of the oil’s contents. Commercial pomegranate seed oils are usually standardized for punicic acid, and with good reason.
Punicic acid is considered an omega-5 fatty acid, according to Blake Ebersole, technical director for pomegranate extracts supplier Verdure Sciences Corp. (Noblesville, IN). “It’s one of the few omega-5s found in the plant kingdom, and it’s a form of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).”
CLA has made a name for itself in the realm of weight management, with human studies suggesting, albeit inconsistently, that it may reduce body mass. Limited studies on pomegranate oil suggest its potential for improving lipid metabolism and weight management. In a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, 51 dyslipidemic subjects were assigned to 800 mg of pomegranate seed oil or placebo daily for four weeks. Four weeks after the intervention with pomegranate, researchers observed lower levels of triglycerides and lower ratios of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol.
Pomegranate seed oil could have some female benefits, too. The ingredient contains 17-alpha-estradiol, a phytoestrogen which could be preferable to 17-beta-estradiol in terms of estrogen activity.
This phytoestrogen, and presumably other compounds in pomegranate seed oil, may even take part in improving menopausal symptoms. Writing in the journal Menopause in 2012, researchers assigned 81 postmenopausal women to pomegranate seed oil or placebo for 12 weeks. At 12 weeks, pomegranate users experienced a moderate, but not statistically significant, reduction in daily hot flashes, compared to placebo users. That reduction increased another 12 months after the intervention finished. The women were also assessed for a cluster of postmenopausal symptoms, and overall scores favored the pomegranate group, largely based on improvements in sleeping disorders.
Options for pomegranate seed oils are slim in the global market, but suppliers do exist, including Verdure Sciences and Arista Industries (Wilton, CT).
Formulating dietary supplements with pomegranate seed oil should be a straightforward procedure: the oil is amber in color and fat-soluble. For cosmetics, however, pomegranate seed oil should be bland and nutty in aroma. If foul odor is detected, this could be due to fermented sugars or water content leftover from improper seed drying.