Are Berries Nature’s Anti-cancer Pills?
Cancer scares us all, and with good reason. For one thing, it’s the second-leading cause of death in America. For another, death from cancer is often far more protracted and messy than death from, say, a heart attack. Virtually everyone knows someone who has been impacted by the disease.
Even though heart disease is our number-one killer, cancer is the disease that strikes the most fear into men’s and women’s hearts. After all, an astounding one-in-eight women can expect to develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Who wouldn't find those odds frightening?
Needless to say, we’re all interested in doing whatever we can to improve those grim odds. One good place to start is with the diet. It’s no secret: A healthy diet featuring lots of whole, unprocessed foods—especially fruits and vegetables—is consistently associated with a reduced risk of developing any number of cancers. Add activity, too; exercise has been linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers. Eat a healthful diet, reduce your intake of red and processed meats, avoid exposure to toxins and x-rays whenever possible, and get plenty of exercise. All of these behaviors can significantly improve your odds of not becoming a statistic.
But let’s get back to food. Is there a particular food we can point to that may be especially good at preventing cancer? If so, I would argue that berries are among the likeliest candidates. In fact, I like to think of them as nature’s little anti-cancer pills. Of course, there are no guarantees in life. But the evidence suggests that unique compounds in berries can help the body fight cancer on the molecular level, in a variety of ways. And they taste good, so win-win.
Which berry is best? Blueberries are usually cited as providing the most benefit for the buck. They’re certainly likely to be the most readily available at your grocer. Research suggests that other berries, such as wild black raspberries, may pack even more antioxidant power per berry than blueberries. Either is excellent. If it has vibrant color; red, black, blue, etc., it’s probably good for you. That’s because the very pigment compounds that give berries their beautiful colors are also potent, beneficial antioxidants that fight oxidative stress in the body.
But don’t stop at blueberries. Pile on the strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries and cherries, too. They all feature various potent phytonutrients that have been associated with a broad range of health benefits, ranging from protection against heart disease and inflammation, to a reduced risk of cancer. And while you’re at it, thrown in some organic grapes, too. They’re not strictly berries, but they’ve been shown to boost immunity, and that may also provide some anti-cancer protection.
And speaking of organic versus conventionally-grown produce, here’s a hidden benefit of paying extra for organic: Not only are organic berries lower in pesticides, they’re also naturally richer in many of the beneficial compounds that we seek them out for in the first place.
Are you eating berries at least four to five times a week? If not, why not? I’d love to hear back from you. Let me know your thoughts.
Ravoori S1, Vadhanam MV, Aqil F, Gupta RC. Inhibition of estrogen-mediated mammary tumorigenesis by blueberry and black raspberry. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Jun 6;60(22):5547-55. doi: 10.1021/jf205325p. Epub 2012 May 22.