A new study finds that pomegranate juice reduces inflammation and may help fight arthritis.

The finding could point the way to a new treatment that avoids the side effects of current anti-inflammatory drugs, which can include nausea and bleeding in the stomach as well as more serious complications.

Scientists at Case Western Reserve University gave extracts of the fruit to rabbits. They then tested the level of activity of certain proteins known to trigger inflammation in the animal's blood.

They found that the pomegranate extracts had inhibited the activity of many of the proteins, some by almost half. It also raised levels of antioxidants, which can also reduce inflammation, in their blood system.

Previous experiments had shown that in laboratory tests pomegranate extract could reduce inflammation in samples of animal tissue, but it was not known whether the fruit could produce the same effects in living creatures.

The researchers believe that the study indicates that eating pomegranate or drinking the juice of the fruit could have a beneficial impact on arthritis.

Tariq Haqqi, who led the study, said such a treatment could also avoid the side effects that can come with long-term use of current anti-inflammatory drugs. But he said that further research was needed on how well the extract is absorbed into the blood stream.

Arthritis drugs

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced an investigation into a class of drugs used to treat arthritis, over concerns they might be linked to the development of cancer.

The agency said it has received 30 reports in the last ten years that the drugs, called tumor necrosis factor blockers, caused cancer in children and young adults.

Vioxx and other anti-inflammatory drugs have been linked to serious heart problems. The FDA has estimated that Vioxx may have contributed to 27,785 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths between 1999 and 2003. The estimate is based on the number of prescriptions issued for Vioxx between 1999 and 2003.

The pomegranate study was published in the Journal of Inflammation.