Cranberries versus Cancer

Breast Cancer Authority Blog Cranberries vs. CancerBy: Micheal Greger, MD, Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

In addition to suppressing liver cancer growth in vitro, cranberries have been found to have similar effects against human breast, colon, brain tumor, oral, and ovarian cancer cells. Here’s the latest looking at prostate cancer cell growth. The United States has the highest rate of prostate cancer in the world, so let’s try a native American fruit. Researchers started out with about 50,000 human prostate cancer cells in a petri dish and if you do nothing, within a day you’re closer to 100,000, then 200,000 and then nearly 400,000 within 72 hours. But by adding just a smidgeon of cranberries, or two smidgeons, you can see they block that exponential cancer growth.

The reason they tested such tiny concentrations, is that we only absorb a small fraction of the cranberry phytonutrients we eat into our bloodstream. Still, cranberries are cheap. If drug companies and supplement manufacturers are going to capitalize on this they needed to find cranberry’s active ingredient. Here’s some of the various phytonutrients in cranberries, so different fractions were tested against various types of cancer to find the magic bullet. Yes, the anthocyanin phytonutrients inhibit colon cancer cell proliferation about 15% for example, about the same with the proanthocyanidins, but nothing compared to the Total Cranberry Extract of the whole fruit. There seemed to be additive or synergistic antiproliferative effects resulting from the combination of the various components compared to individual purified phytochemicals. So it’s always better to eat the whole fruit.

How do you do that with cranberries, though? Although 5% of cranberries are sold fresh, the vast majority are consumed as processed products. To get the same amount of anthocyanin phytonutrients in a cup of fresh or frozen cranberries, you’d have to drink 16 cups of cranberry juice cocktail, eat 7 cups of dried cranberries, or 26 cans of cranberry sauce.

The problem is that raw cranberries are so tart that folks may opt for the 7 cups of dried. In a taste test survey, consumers said they wouldn’t mind eating sweetened cranberries every day, raw cranberries sloped down towards maybe once a year. The problem is dried cranberries tend to come sweetened. Raw cranberries don’t affect your blood sugar, but sweetened dried cranberries do, even the low sugar varieties.

What about cranberry juice, or shall I say quote-unquote juice? Cranberry cocktail is only about a quarter cranberry juice. The ruby red phytonutrients in cranberries and pure cranberry juice are powerful antioxidants, increasing the antioxidant capacity of our bloodstream within hours of consumption. But the high fructose corn syrup acts as a pro-oxidant, even if you add vitamin C to it as they did here, cancelling out some of the cranberry benefit. So how do you get the upsides without the down? Check out my pink juice video, where I offer a recipe for making no added sugar whole fruit cranberry cocktail.

Doctor’s Note

The whole fruit cocktail of which I spoke is detailed in Pink Juice with Green Foam.

How do cranberries compare to other common fruits? Check out my last video, Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better?

More on nutrient synergy in:

And for another reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup: Mercury in Corn Syrup?

Suppressing cancer growth in a petri dish is nice, but what about within the human body? Wait until you see my next two videos—Strawberries versus Esophageal Cancer and Black Raspberries versus Oral Cancer. Hold on to your hats!

Check out my associated blog posts for more context:  Which Common Fruit Fights Cancer Better?Anti-Cancer Nutrient Synergy in Cranberries, and Raspberries Reverse Precancerous Lesions

Michael Greger M.D.About Michael Greger M.D.Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

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