Pomegranate juice may prevent pregnancy complications


Spring 2013

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 cells that differentiate in vitro. More specifically, the juice, which is high in polyphenolic antioxidants, reduced oxidative stress in human placenta in vivo and limited stimulus-induced death of human fetal cells 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.

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

Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. In complicated pregnancies, elevated oxidative stress has been shown to contribute to placental dysfunction, which often causes preeclampsia, growth-restricted babies and preterm birth. Women give birth to babies who have problems related to placental dysfunction in five to 10 percent of pregnancies worldwide.

“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 the Department 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 randomized at 35-38 weeks gestation 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 in vitro studies of oxidative stress and cell death, in which placental explants and cultured primary human fetal cells were exposed to pomegranate juice or 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.