Study: There May Be a Link Between Pomegranate Juice During Pregnancy and Baby’s Brain Development

From the minute you discover you’ve got a baby on the way, you are inundated with information about all the pregnancy superfoods to add to your diet. But one thing that may not have been on the list, but could potentially help your little one in the womb: pomegranate juice. Through ongoing investigations, clinical researchers are exploring whether pomegranate juice intake during pregnancy can help protect baby’s brain development.

When it comes to protecting a baby’s bain, taking early steps to lessen the risk before birth is crucial in preventing brain injury. Some newborns, specifically those with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), or at a heightened risk for this. Specifically, one in ten babies is considered to have IUGR, and a baby with this condition usually measures small for its gestational age. It’s typically due to issues with the placenta, which brings oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital are running tests to determine if pomegranate juice has a protective effect for babies with IUGR. The team analyzed mothers whose babies were diagnosed with IUGR, and presented their findings in a paper available in the Public Library of Science (PLOS). The results seem to suggest that there may be better brain development and brain connectivity in infants whose mothers consumed pomegranate juice daily during pregnancy. A second, larger clinical trial is currently underway to validate these findings.

Pomegranate juice is a particularly rich source of polyphenols, which are chemicals that are part of a class of antioxidants found in many food and beverages, including nuts, berries, red wine and teas. Polyphenols are known to cross the blood-brain barrier, and studies in animal models have demonstrated protective effects against neurodegenerative diseases.

The randomized, controlled, double-blinded study enrolled 78 mothers from Barnes-Jewish Hospital obstetric clinic in St. Louis with IUGR diagnosed at 24 to 43 weeks’ gestation. Women were randomized to receive 8 ounces of pomegranate juice daily, or a taste/calorie matched placebo that was polyphenol free. Women drank the juice daily from the start of the study to their delivery. The team measured several aspects of brain development and injury, including infant brain macrostructure, microstructural organization and functional connectivity. Although they didn’t observe differences in brain macrostructure, they did find regional differences in white matter microstructure and functional connectivity.

To break down some of that medical jargon, what it means is there was no difference in brain growth or baby growth, but they did see an improvement in the cabling network and brain development measured by simultaneous blood flow and visual development of the brain.

This is the first clinical study to evaluate the potential effects of giving pregnant women pomegranate juice to protect the brains of at-risk newborns. The researchers say they need additional research to support the preliminary evidence. A larger study is now underway at the Brigham to dig deeper into the topic.

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