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Pomegranate People: The Alchemist and the Capitalist

How Pomegranates Became America's New Elixir

By Jacob Schor, ND

Pomegranate juice easily could be voted the panacea of the year. News stories promoting its virtues are everywhere and it seems every month or so a new study is published confirming its utility in preventing morbidity.

From Alzheimer's to erectile dysfunction, pomegranate is America's new elixir. The pomegranate and its rise from obscurity is as much a story about two people and how they pushed pomegranate into prominence as it is about groundbreaking scientific studies.

The two people who deserve credit for the pomegranate renaissance are Ephraim Lansky and Lynda Resnick. These two people are about as different from each other as you can imagine. Their stories and how their inspiration turned the pomegranate into a household commodity are relevant to understanding and interpreting the emerging research.

The Alchemist

At NCNM, every class had what I used to refer to as their "hippy:" the brilliant and perhaps eccentric student who, while the rest of us tried to look like doctors and adjusted to wearing ties and white coats, somehow got away with dreadlocks and a tie-dyed wardrobe. Every so often, you meet an intelligent mind more creative than you would ever hope to be, who sees the world in a way you never will. I bet Einstein fell into this category when he was a student. Whether we say the fellow "marched to the beat of a different drummer" or the guy took the "road less traveled," Ephraim Lansky was probably not your typical medical student. I don't know what Lansky looked like when he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Medical School in 1982, but he certainly looks a bit fringe now.

Lansky might be an MD, but he was never a conventional one. After completing an internship in psychiatry, he went on to study with the big names in alternative medicine. He studied acupuncture with Sae-il Chun and Ted Kaptchuk, homeopathy at the National Center for Homeopathy and with George Vithoulkas in Greece, and Western herbology with Simon Mills. He has an education that would do a naturopath proud. The multifaceted Lansky also is Israel's chief Aikido instructor.

Our esteemed colleague, Dan Rubin, ND, a graduate of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, met Lansky in 1992, while they both lived in Iowa City. With the kind of reverence some might reserve for a guru, Rubin credits Lansky as his inspiration to attend naturopathic school. "Lansky is more than an MD, more than a practicing physician, more than a researcher; he is a steward of the field, a revolutionary and a believer in the concept of functional medicine."

At some point in Lansky's career quietly practicing alternative medicine, he found himself in Jerusalem, reading a line from King Solomon's "Song of Songs," which mentions pomegranates. Something clicked and Lansky went home to read up on this intriguing fruit. The only thing published at that point was a 1964 Egyptian paper suggesting that pomegranate seeds contain some estrogen. A light went on in Lansky's brain and has been shining brightly ever since.

In 1992, Lansky returned to Israel to present his own paper on pomegranates which captured the interest of the late Dan Palevitch who, at the time, was one of Israel's leading authorities on medicinal plants. Palevitch's two volume set, Medicinal Plants of the Holy Land, is a classic. Some of you might remember Palevitch; he camped out in Friedhelm's library at NCNM in the late '80s devouring the old herbal books. Palevitch convinced Lansky to move to Israel and research pomegranates in earnest. Lansky began researching the pomegranate's effect on cancer cells and designing extraction and fermentation methods to maximize the anti-cancer effect.

In 1998, Lansky presented his research on the therapeutic potential of the pomegranate and pointed out that pomegranate seeds had the highest concentration of estrone of any plant substance.1 In 1999, he found that the fermented juices and seed oil had altered eicosanoid production via Cox-2 inhibition.2 Three years later, he wrote about the potential of pomegranate as a treatment for breast cancer.3 The seed oil, while containing estrone, acted as an aromatase inhibitor. In 2003, Lansky published that topical application protected against skin cancer4 and stopped angiogenesis.5 The following year, his study was on leukemia.6 Lansky's Web site, www.Rimonest.com, provides links to all the papers he has co-authored and published on pomegranates.

The Marketing Genius

If Lansky was the class hippy, Resnick was the prom queen or the class valedictorian; probably both. Certainly, she should have been voted most likely to succeed. She was going places from the start. At 19, she opened her own full-service advertising agency and hasn't slowed down since. Resnick has a talent, best described as a gold thumb, for marketing and running businesses. She excels at making money. In 1979, she and her husband, Stewart Resnick, took over a floral business called Teleflora and built it into the world's largest floral wire service with more than 24,000 member florists.

Teleflora isn't the only business Lynda and Stewart Resnick own. They also own the Franklin Mint, the world's largest producer of collectibles. You see the Mint's advertisements for limited edition collectibles whenever you open a Sunday newspaper. And that's not all. Under the names Paramount Farms and Paramount Citrus Companies, they own the nation's largest orchards and processing plants for oranges, lemons, almonds and pistachios.

Lynda Resnick's genius is in creating new products and concepts to market. She is the force behind a list of food products with names you'll probably recognize including those seasoned nut toppings, Almond Accents and Almond Munchies, and those teeny, delicious Clementine oranges called Cuties. Another of Resnick's enterprises we all recognize is Fiji Water. Who else would have ever dreamed of bottling water on a South Pacific island, shipping it halfway around the world and selling it for a profit? Resnick did and looking at her track record, it's no surprise. Pomegranate juice is another success story to add to an already long list of innovative business ideas. Lynda Resnick is the true capitalist.

While Lansky started small, Lynda Resnick could afford to start big. The Resnicks began buying land in California's San Joaquin Valley 15 years ago and planted pomegranates. Their company, PomWonderful, now owns 6,000 acres of pomegranate orchards and is estimated to have sold 50 million dollars of pomegranate juice. They produce more than half of the pomegranates grown in the U.S. Starting in the late '90s, they hit on a unique marketing strategy: Find evidence that pomegranates are good for people and then promote and sell them based on their health benefits.

Lynda Resnick contacted Dr. Michael Aviram, head of lipid research at the Technion Institute in Israel. Aviram has spent 20 years researching ways to prevent or reverse the atherosclerotic plaques that cause cardiovascular disease. Testing natural antioxidants, he found that pomegranate extracts, while not lowering LDL cholesterol, did limit how much of it was "oxidized," the first stage in the formation of plaque. These plaques, triggered by the oxidization of cholesterol, can narrow arteries or break off and cause heart disease and strokes. With the Resnicks' money, Dr. Aviram ran further studies. PubMed currently lists 10 papers Aviram has published on pomegranates. His interest in preventing LDL oxidation7,8 was followed with studies on anti-hypertensive effects9 and then on reduction of carotid stenosis.10 His more recent work has looked at cardiovascular benefits for diabetics and suggests pomegranate might be useful for erectile dysfunction.11 The Resnicks have poured $10 million into funding scientific studies at 18 medical schools and committed an additional $8 million toward future studies. This is a lot of money, about four times what PomWonderful spends a year on advertising.

In contrast to the Resnicks, Lansky's business started much more modestly, as he obtained his early funding and advice from a "business incubator" attached to the Technion Institute in Israel. His lab is in a renovated tailor shop in the old Turkish market of Haifa. He raises funds for his research selling pomegranate liquors made from leftover research materials, following the spagyric methods of Paracelsus. Reading descriptions of his setup and various enterprises, one can't help being reminded of the homeopathic remedy sulphur. Lansky is as much an alchemist as he is a modern scientist.

The past few years have seen an explosion of published research on pomegranates. Lansky's Web site provides links to the studies he has co-authored on pomegranates. Resnick's company Web site, www.pomwonderful.com, lists another 12 studies, including Aviram's, that use their juice product. A PubMed search on pomegranate currently yields 154 studies.

There is a key difference between Lansky's and PomWonderful's research agendas. True to his holistic approach, Lansky started his research looking for the synergistic interactions between the various parts of the pomegranate plant. In his early work, he tested individual fractions from different parts of the plant against cancer cells to find the most effective extract. Lansky determined that a fermented extract made from seeds, pericarp and juice was most effective against breast cancer cells-much more so than plain juice or unfermented extracts.

Several years ago, I asked Lansky if it was the ellagic acid in the pomegranate that had the anti-cancer effect, and I received a lecture on synergy and the concept that the whole was more than the sum of the parts. Lansky, channeling a combination of Lust and Lindhlar, was what I thought at the time. Lansky always has focused his research on creating potent medicinal extracts from the whole pomegranate. Using different extraction methods and different ratios of ingredients, he has designed various products targeting cardiovascular health, menopausal hot flashes and prostate cancer.

Resnick, true to her business sense, created a product in PomWonderful juice that she could sell. PomWonderful juice tastes good. You can't say the same about the stuff Lansky brews from the barky skins and seeds that he adds to the juice. PomWonderful has geared its research to prove that pomegranate juice is good for you. It certainly seems to be as you read through the studies. But, we must ask if it's the best thing to use when treating disease.

What do I tell my patients? What do I tell the fellow with prostate cancer? A study is about to be published in which men with metastatic prostate cancer were given a glass of PomWonderful each day. Their PSA doubling times were almost twice as long as the control group who didn't get the juice. Given these findings, it sure makes sense to insist that every guy with prostate cancer should guzzle this juice. Yet, over in the Holy Land, Lansky is testing an encapsulated extract of pomegranate fractions called Punixin that he has designed specifically to treat prostate and breast cancer. He doesn't have the clinical trials to support its use the way PomWonderful does. Then again, he doesn't have the blank check the Resnicks give to PomWonderful to fund research.

I don't have an answer yet. At this point, I recommend both. PomWonderful is available at the corner grocery, it's easy to drink and most people like it. Ephraim Lansky's products are obscure and distributed in the U.S. only by Arben, a small start-up company out of Rochester, N.Y. (www.pomhealth.com). Punixin, Lansky's prostate-specific product, still is being tested and isn't on the market yet. Other companies already are selling pomegranate products. Expect to see more competing products entering both the grocery and supplement markets carried along by the research on PomWonderful and from Lansky's laboratory.

There are situations most of us can think of where consuming the food source of a nutrient along with an extract of the same nutrient works better than either alone. Iron, taken with a meal containing meat, works better than when taken alone. Eating onions with quercetin increases the absorption of quercetin. Let's assume for now that washing down a pomegranate pill with a glass of pomegranate juice also will produce better results. At a minimum, in appropriate situations, I encourage my patients to drink pomegranate juice. Often, I urge them to use both.

The editors of Naturopathy Digest asked me whether I have a vested interest in either of these companies. The answer is no, but I wish I did. I would love to hang out with Ephraim Lansky in old Haifa. I would love an invitation to have dinner with Lynda Resnick in her $18 million Beverly Hills mansion. Though different in many ways, both Lansky and Resnick share a common inspiration and fascination with pomegranates and a common goal: to bring better health to more people.

As I write this, I am reminded of the often-recited story of the blind men trying to describe an elephant. Depending on what part of the elephant they touch, they describe the creature differently. In this case, the opposite seems to be true. Lansky and Resnick, I suspect, see the world very differently and are blind to each other's perspectives. Yet they have both found the pomegranate, and I think will describe it in similar terms as both a treasure and a blessing.

References

  1. Lansky E, Schubert S, Neeman I. Pharmacological and therapeutic properties of pomegranate. I Symposium International Sobre El Granado (First International Symposium on the Pomegranate), Orihuela, Spain, Oct. 15-17, 1998.
  2. Schubert SY, Lansky EP, Neeman I. Antioxidant and eicsanoid enzyme inhibition properties of pomegranate seed oil and fermented juice flavonoids. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1999;66:11-17.
  3. Kim ND, Mehta R, Yu W, Neeman I, Livney T, Amichay A, Poirier D, Nicholls P, Kirby A, Jiang W, Mansel R, Ramachandran C, Rabi T, Kaplan B, Lansky E. Chemopreventive and adjuvant therapeutic potential of pomegranate (Punica granatum) for human breast cancer. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2002;71:203-217.
  4. Hora JJ, Maydew ER, Lansky EP, Dwivedi C. Chemopreventive effects of pomegranate seed oil on skin tumor development in CD1 mice. Journal of Medicinal Food 2003;6:157-61.
  5. Toi M, Bando H, Ramachandran C, Melnick SJ, Imai A, Fife RS, Carr RE, Oikawa T, Lansky EP. Preliminary studies on the anti-angiogenic potential of pomegranate fractions in vitro and in vivo. Angiogenesis 2003;6:121-28.
  6. Kawaii S, Lansky EP. Differentiation-promoting activity of pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit extracts in HL-60 human promyelocytic leukemia cells. Journal of Medicinal Food 2004;7:13-18.
  7. Aviram M, Dornfeld L, Rosenblat M, Volkova N, Kaplan M, Coleman R, Hayek T, Presser D, Fuhrman B. Pomegranate juice consumption reduces oxidative stress, atherogenic modifications to LDL, and platelet aggregation: studies in humans and in atherosclerotic apolipoprotein E-deficient mice. Am J Clin Nutr May 2000;71(5):1062-76.
  8. Kaplan M, Hayek T, Raz A, Coleman R, Dornfeld L, Vaya J, Aviram M. Pomegranate juice supplementation to atherosclerotic mice reduces macrophage lipid peroxidation, cellular cholesterol accumulation and development of atherosclerosis. J Nutr August 2001;131(8):2082-9.
  9. Aviram M, Dornfeld L. Pomegranate juice consumption inhibits serum angiotensin converting enzyme activity and reduces systolic blood pressure. Atherosclerosis. 2001 Sep;158(1):195-8.
  10. Aviram M, Rosenblat M, Gaitini D, Nitecki S, Hoffman A, Dornfeld L, Volkova N, Presser D, Attias J, Liker H, Hayek T. Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation. Clin Nutr. 2004 Jun;23(3):423-33.
  11. Azadzoi KM, Schulman RN, Aviram M, Siroky MB. Oxidative stress in arteriogenic erectile dysfunction: prophylactic role of antioxidants. J Urol. 2005 Jul;174(1):386-93.

About the Author: Dr. Jacob Schor graduated with a bachelor of science degree from Cornell University and received his naturopathic training at National College of Naturopathic Medicine. He currently practices at the Denver Naturopathic Clinic. E-mail Dr. Schor at .

 

 



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Date Last Modified - Friday, 17-Oct-2008 12:10:23 PDT