The red fleshy seeds of the pomegranate, a fruit that originates from Asia, could have another health benefit to add to its superfruit status. According to researchers, a type of compound found in pomegranate could play an important role in strengthening muscle cells.
This protective and boosting effect has been linked to an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective component of pomegranate, leading to the production of urolithins. The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, explains how urolithins can slow the aging process by encouraging cells to repair and renew mitochondria, the parts of cells that convert food into energy.
These protective agents are produced by gut bacteria from polyphenols called ellagitannins, which are naturally present in pomegranates. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that are found in many fruits and vegetables.
The scientists studied the effects of urolithins on rats and mice. They were found to improve muscle function in mice with no change in muscle mass, resulting in a 9 per cent increase in grip strength.
What's more, the mice who received urolithins were found to spontaneously exercise 57 per cent more than control mice, with increased running endurance of 42 per cent for mice and 65 per cent for rats.
The researchers attribute the boost in muscle function to improved mitochondrial renewal, eliminating damaged mitochondria and boosting production of new, healthy mitochondria.
Previous studies have shown that regularly eating pomegranate could have a protective effect against neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.
Urolithins are considered a promising avenue of research for scientists working on ways of improving mitochondrial function and muscle function. They are currently the subject of clinical trials to evaluate their effectiveness in humans. The results are expected in 2017.