Know Someone Who Drinks Pomegranate Juice to Prevent Prostate Cancer?

“I’m off to save prostates!” claimed ads for POM Wonderful pomegranate juice years ago.

That was false hope, new research funded by the juice-makers now shows.POM

Men, you can stop drinking the juice if you don’t like the taste or the expense.

For years, the POM Wonderful company of Los Angeles led men with prostate cancer to believe that drinking its pomegranate juice would slow down the growth of their cancers. This was based mostly on a pilot study funded by the owners of POM Wonderful and conducted at the University of California at Los Angeles.

That study monitored the levels of PSA in men treated for prostate cancer who drank pomegranate juice every day. (PSA, or prostate specific antigen, is a protein produced by the prostate. Rising PSA levels can be a sign of a growing tumor.)

“The juice seems to be working,” the lead researcher was quoted in a UCLA press release about the study. POM’s owners, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, are longtime supporters of UCLA and have given tens of millions of dollars to the University. UCLA’s enthusiastic press release no doubt helped boost pomegranate juice sales for its two benefactors.

But the hyped-up pilot study had no placebo group, so there was no way to tell if drinking  pomegranate juice actually made any difference.

Fast-forward a decade

Now, 10 years later, the UCLA researchers have finally published a better follow-up study with a placebo group, also funded by POM.

Beginning in 2006, the researchers randomly assigned 166 men treated for prostate cancer to take a liquid extract of pomegranate juice or a placebo liquid every day. (POM says the juice extract has the same ingredients as the juice.)

Over the next three years, PSA levels rose at the same rate in both groups. Pomegranate juice did not slow down the progression of the men’s prostate cancer. No word on why it took so long for these results to become public.

This time around, UCLA was silent about the disappointing outcome of the Resnicks’ second trial. So was the POM Wonderful company.

In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission concluded that POM’s advertisements for pomegranate juice were deceptive. In 2015, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court agreed, calling POM’s claims of health benefits “false and unsubstantiated.” In May 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined POM Wonderful’s appeal.

the study: Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 18: 242, 2015.

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8 Replies to “Know Someone Who Drinks Pomegranate Juice to Prevent Prostate Cancer?”

  1. You have reported the results of the study accurately.

    However, there may still be a role for pomegranate juice in slowing down or preventing the recurrence of prostate cancer for some. A subset of men in the reported study (22% of the study subjects) had a specific genotype for which the pomegranate juice extract seemed to result in a significant lengthening of the time for the PSA to double. The study mentioned in this Nutrition Action article was not designed to adequately ascertain the effect of the extract in these men, but it is worth noting and this preliminary finding likely will result in a future study designed to test this possibility.

    A link for the complete report is at http://www.nature.com/pcan/journal/v18/n3/full/pcan201532a.html .

    (I have no vested interests in anyone or anything related to UCLA or to POM or anything else related to this subject matter).

    1. You are correct. We didn’t mention this genotype information because (1) as you suggest, the researchers themselves say this is a hypothesis that needs to be tested and verified, and (2) men don’t have an easy way of finding out if they carry this genotype that may benefit from antioxidant supplementation.

      1. Agree on both counts. However, I thought it worth mentioning because there has been so much hype regarding pomegranate juice (without valid reason so far) that it would be easy for readers to disregard any future reports of actual benefit as just so much hype, more of the same.

        Also, while it may be difficult to determine one’s genotype as it relates to the one that may benefit from pomegranate juice, if future studies show benefit in this subset of men, I expect such a genotype determination would be made more readily available at an ultimately lower cost than likely what is available today.

  2. Yet another ‘superfood’ theory debunked. I’ve concluded that while NOT consuming certain things (Tobacco products, excessive alcohol, trans fats, processed meats etc.) may improve your health prospects, CONSUMING certain things to improve health is pretty much false hope. If vegetarians are healthier than others, it’ likely because the DON’T eat meat, more than because they eat lots of broccoli, beans etc.. Sad, but reality I guess.

  3. So, what is the penalty to the Resnicks and to UCLA for perpetrating this falsehood on the public? If there’s no penalty, what’s to stop other companies from doing the same? How can the public know what to believe if they can’t believe such august institutions as UCLA, for example?

    1. The FTC has sued POM for deceptive advertising and the US Supreme Court has affirmed the decision of lower courts that requires POM’s future disease treatment and prevention claims to be supported by at least one randomized, well-controlled human clinical trial, and other health benefit claims to be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.

      Regarding UCLA, the university’s reputation, and specifically those of the researchers involved in the earlier study, have suffered.

      Neither “penalty” is sufficient in my opinion, but they are not trivial, either. Always look for how a study was funded to get a handle on possible sources of bias in the reporting of the results.

      For POM specifically, you can read more information at ftc.gov and use “POM” as the search term.

  4. This has been going on for years the only way to prevent this from happening is to make sure all studies of this type and others are done by an independent research group

    1. From Nutrition Action: The dilemma is that for the most part the only sources of funding for these kinds of studies are the companies themselves. Realistically, there’s no independent, ie public, money available.

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