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Science Says Pomegranates Could Be a "Fountain of Youth"—They Keep Us Strong as We Age

Martha Stewart Living logo Martha Stewart Living 1/21/2022 Nashia Baker

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Pomegranates are known for their unique sweet-meets-tart flavor. Intriguing taste aside, the fruit boasts plenty of health benefits thanks to the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber packed inside. Per new research published in JAMA Network Open, pomegranates could also boost muscle development and mitochondrial health in seniors. The key? The fruit's urolithin A extract, which researchers out of the University of Washington note might contribute to a "fountain of youth" treatment that protects against frailty as we age.

"Mitochondria are like batteries that power the cells in your body," the research team shared. "But over time, they break down. The process of mitophagy recognizes this failure and proactively tears down the mitochondria, reducing it to elemental components that a cell can reuse. But with aging, mitophagy becomes less efficient and your body accumulates this pool of failing mitochondria. It's one way that muscles become less functional as we age."

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Urolithin A is known to improve the mitochondria (which powers cells) and boost muscle strength. "This is relevant both to people with chronic diseases and people who want to be more active later in life," said David Marcinek, the lead author and professor, in a university release. The team discovered that seniors who took urolithin A supplements had better results in their physical endurance tests. Sixty-six volunteers participated in the study and received either 1,000 milligrams of urolithin daily for four months or a placebo. In the beginning of the study, all participants, on average, had low adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels, which caused low cell function.

Over time, the team found that the group that took the urolithin A supplements saw muscle contractions (specifically of the hands and legs) improve during exercise. Plus, these participants made it further in distance during their six-minute walks, as compared to those in the placebo group. "Even though we did not observe an effect of the supplement in whole body function, these results are still exciting because they demonstrate that just taking a supplement for a short duration actually improved muscle endurance," Marcinek said. "Fatigue resistance got better in the absence of exercise."

The scientists also noted that blood tests that showed urolithin A featured less chemicals associated with metabolic disorders. "I think these changes suggest that the treatment affects the metabolic condition of people. Even though it didn't affect the maximum ATP production, it improved test subjects' general metabolism," Marcinek said. Pomegranate supplements could also help those who cannot exercise based on their current muscle health. "Just getting them over that point where exercise is possible—a walk around the block or climbing some stairs—might help a person build their own health," he added.

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