Drinking one small glass of pomegranate juice a day during pregnancy helps keep the baby safe, according to a new study.
Researchers in the United States believe as little as 230ml daily of the nutritious fruit drink could protect the developing brain.
They found that the juice could help babies with a condition called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) – where tots grow very slowly in the womb.
The condition is often triggered by problems with the placenta, which takes oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus.
One out of every 10 ten babies has the problem which, in the most serious cases, can lead to brain injury and still birth.
Study author Dr Terrie Inder said: “Our study provides preliminary evidence suggesting potential protective effects for unborns exposed to pomegranate juice while in utero.”
Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the United States gave 78 expecting mums, who were at the end of the second trimester of pregnancy or into the third and with IUGR, either a placebo or the juice.
The results of the trial, published in the journal PLOS One, show babies whose mother drank the juice everyday had better brain development.
The team measured several aspects of brain development and injury, including infant brain macrostructure, microstructural organisation and functional connectivity.
While they did not observe differences in brain macrostructure, they did find differences in white matter microstructure and functional connectivity.
The key, say the researchers, is a group of chemicals called polyphenols which appear in nuts, berries, red wine, and tea but are especially high in pomegranates.
Polyphenols, a class of antioxidants, are known to cross the blood-brain barrier. Studies in animal models have shown their protective effects against neurodegenerative diseases.
The study carried out by Dr Inder and her team was the first clinical experiment looking into the potential effects of giving pregnant women pomegranate juice to protect the brains of at-risk newborns.
Dr Inder added: “We saw no difference in brain growth and baby growth, but we did see improvement in cabling network and brain development measured by synchronous blood flow and visual development of the brain.
“These findings warrant continued investigation into the potential neuroprotective effects of polyphenols in at risk newborns.”
A second study, hoping to get to prove whether or not the exotic fruit really could help babies and their mothers, is already underway at Brigham.