Hepatitis C is a tenacious, sneaky virus that may be rendered a bit less tenacious and sneaky by pomegranate. For the estimated four million Americans with Hepatitis C, improvements in medication cocktails have improved the odds of being cured of Hepatitis C. However, thousands of individuals must manage this potentially lethal illness on their own. Evidence has been mounting of pomegranate’s value to heart and liver health, but a new study demonstrates this fruit’s specific capability to inhibit the Hepatitis C virus.
Hepatitis C is Tenacious and Sneaky
First discovered as a new virus causing liver damage in the 1980s, Hepatitis C was properly identified in 1989 and screened for in 1991. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of the population acquired Hepatitis C prior to these dates. These individuals typically harbor the Hepatitis C virus in their liver for 20 to 30 years before evidence of its presence emerges. Occasionally regarded as a ‘silent killer,’ the Hepatitis C virus can reproduce and gain strength for years in someone’s liver without exhibiting any symptoms. Once symptoms do emerge, the person affected likely has an advanced form of the sneaky Hepatitis C infection.
Upon learning of a chronic Hepatitis C infection, treatment is far from simple. Besides being costly, physicians are now relying on a combination of potent medications that can have severe side effects. These side effects may require additional drugs be added to the treatment regimen, or they can result in an inability to complete treatment. Even for those who are able to complete a course of Hepatitis C therapy with the most up-to-date medications, approximately 25 percent will be unsuccessful. Although the success rate is better now than it ever has been before, Hepatitis C remains a tenacious virus that refuses to succumb easily.
The Powerful Pomegranate
The pomegranate’s name is derived from the Middle French “pomme garnete,” which literally means seeded apple. Many scholars believe that the forbidden, irresistible fruit that Eve indulged of in the Garden of Eden was actually a pomegranate.
The pomegranate is a red fruit with a tough outer rind that houses a plethora of seeds compartmentalized by waxy pith. Only the juice surrounding each seed (and the seeds) are edible, and it takes a bit of work to get to the seeds. However, the labor involved is worthwhile because pomegranates contain high levels of potent antioxidants – substances that prevent damage to our body’s cells. Some sources claim that the pomegranate contains the highest level of antioxidants of all fruits.
Pomegranate and Hepatitis C
Despite the belief that food is medicine, rarely does a natural food demonstrate a capacity to stop a tenacious, sneaky virus like Hepatitis C. The pomegranate appears to be an exception. Nutritionists have known for a long time that the benefits of pomegranate include liver protection, a likely consequence of its high antioxidant content. Yet pomegranate’s health benefits go beyond simple liver protection and extend to fighting the Hepatitis C virus.
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore found that three compounds in pomegranate (punicalin, punicalagin and ellagic acid), suppresses the Hepatitis C virus. More specifically, these three pomegranate compounds found in the fruit’s peel successfully inhibit the NS3 protease enzyme in Hepatitis C.
Regarding Hepatitis C, lead researcher professor Saumitra Das of the department of microbiology and cell biology said, “The NS3 protease enzyme is very important for the virus for the polyprotein process, in which the virus replicates. The compounds we have found in the pomegranate’s peel inhibit the enzyme and appear to block the catalytic site of the enzyme in a cell-culture system.” To simplify, healthy cells were:
- pretreated with the pomegranate compound, then
- inundated with the Hepatitis C virus, then
- spared because the pomegranate blocked Hepatitis C infection.
Because the pomegranate compounds blocks Hepatitis C’s life cycle, they inhibit virus entry and replication – two primary, therapeutic goals for stopping Hepatitis C. According to Das, about one liter of pomegranate juice provides between 1.5 and 2 grams of these compounds. Based on Das’s research, expect to see future generations of Hepatitis C drugs based on punicalin, punicalagin and ellagic acid.
Few would have guessed that the ancient “seeded apple” holds the key to unlock the secrets of the sneaky and tenacious Hepatitis C virus. Until the day comes when the primary Hepatitis C vaccine or therapy is based on this powerful fruit, drinking pomegranate juice is a safe way to use this revered food as potent, Hepatitis C medicine.