Twelve thousand women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer. It’s treated with radiation. Researchers from the University-Columbia now show that blueberry extract makes the radiation work more effectively.
Blueberries, it turns out, are “radio-sensitizers”. Blue berry extract, when given along with radiation, make unhealthy cervical cancer cells respond better, die more, when exposed to radiation.
In a joint cell study from the Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine, the University of Missouri School of Medicine, and The Affiliated Hospital of Xiangnan University, in China, they found:
- Cervical cancer cells treated with radiation alone decreased cancer cell growth by 20%.
- Cervical cancer cells treat with blueberry extract alone decreased cancer growth by 25%. (Blue pigments were more effective at killing cancer cells than radiation!)
- Cervical cancer cells treated with “both” radiation and blueberry extract had the most benefit. The combo treatment increased cancer cells death (apoptosis) by 70%!
Why? The amazing blue pigments.
Blue pigments, called anthocyanins, are one of Nature’s tools to keep us well. They are a “sub-group” of flavonoids that fight cancer “stem” cells. Cancer stem cells are linked to recurrence of cancer. Conventional treatments (chemo, radiation, surgery) address cancer “daughter” cells, but not so much cancer stem cells.
Colorful plant flavonoids fight cancer stem cells.
Blueberries contain other protectors like resveratrol. This is the same protective plant (phenol) compound also found in blue foods, like grape skins, grape juice, wine and blue and red berries. Resveratrol fights cancer stem cells and even boosts tumor suppressor cells, like tumor suppressor cells P53 that also help us fight cancer
Anthocyanins are the pigments that give blue, purple, and red color to many fruits, flowers, and leaves. Eating a diet rich in anthocyanins has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer, heart and liver disease.
The fate and effectiveness of anthocyanins you swallow them depends, to a degree, on how healthy your intestinal tract is functioning.
Once you eat blueberries, blue cabbage or exotic black rice, all rich in anthocynanins, these pigments are processed by your body differently from other flavonoids.
Anthocyanins can be absorbed immediately and directly right from your stomach. As they move further down your gut, active transporters (that depend on other nutritional factors from healthy food choices) play a role in the absorption of anthocyanins from your intestines.
Anthocyanins, such as cyanidin-3-glucoside and pelargonidin-3-glucoside, cross your gut wall intact and travel to your liver. There they undergo extensive “first-pass liver (hepatic) metabolism” which creates unique metabolites. These healing compounds then leave the liver, enter your systemic blood circulation, and travel far and wide to keep your tissues healthy.
After munching on blue berries or red cabbage, cancer fighting “phenolic acid metabolites” end up in your blood stream in much higher concentrations than their parent compounds found in the original foods on your plate. But how many healthy metabolites you make depend on the health of your microbiome.
Significant amounts of blue anthocyanins reach your large intestine, the colon, and are acted upon by gut microbiota. The healthier your gut the more healthy metabolites from blue foods your gut makes. These healthy decomposition products get reabsorbed, travel throughout your blood stream, delivering cancer protection as they go.
Cancer benefits are shown to work with fresh or frozen blue foods. It also makes sense that these blue foods are not just helpful for one kind of cancer protection, but many.
Blue foods are so protective, they can block the dangerous action of specific cancer-causing compounds. For example, rats exposed to a specific cancer-promoting compound consistently develop esophageal cancer. But if the cancer initiator is given along with a diet robust in freeze-dried black, blue or raspberries, or even their break down metabolites, the rats don’t go on to develop esophageal cancer.
Food pigments are one of Nature’s tools to fight tumor development and growth. These rainbow pigments also fight inflammation, which is now thought to be one component of cancer initiation.
If you want to prevent cancer in the first place, or if you had cancer and want to prevent a recurrence, or you’re in radiation treatment, you want to fill your plate with color. With lots of variations of blue colored foods.
I was diagnosed with cancer twice as well as having grown many other tumors, because of a drug my mother was prescribed when pregnant with me. This drug was labeled a class one carcinogen, in 1971, after millions of pregnant women had been prescribed this drug for more than 30 years.
Making my remission my mission, I try to eat blue foods at least once, if not more, a day.
Some of my favorite blue food ideas
1. Coleslaw made with red cabbage.
2. A slice of red cabbage with a slice of cheese or alternative Daiya cheese.
3. A blue/purple carrot dipped in hummus or organic peanut butter.
4. Black rice cooked with beans, olive pate’ and dried tomato paste.
5. Purple kale chips (broiled with olive oil, granulated garlic and Celtic sea salt).
6. Raspberry sorbet (frozen berries with vanilla pea protein, raw pistachios, ice and blend)
There used to be a song called The Little Blue Man and part of the lyrics went, “I wuv you, I wuv you,” said The Little Blue Man. Well, Nature has planned it that blue foods wuv us, too!
PS. I have another blue food blog here.
Blueberry as a Potential Radiosensitizer for Treating Cervical Cancer. Pathology & Oncology Research, 2017;
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Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2014;15(5):2379-81. Anthocyanins: targeting of signaling networks in cancer cells.
Drug Metab Rev. 2014 Nov;46(4):508-20. Bioavailability of anthocyanins.
Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2014 Jun;7(6):574-84. Chemoprevention of esophageal cancer with black raspberries, their component anthocyanins, and a major anthocyanin metabolite, protocatechuic acid.
Cancer Immunol Res. 2016 Jan;4(1):72-82. Dietary Consumption of Black Raspberries or Their Anthocyanin Constituents Alters Innate Immune Cell Trafficking in Esophageal Cancer.
Chem Biol Interact. 2017 Dec 20. pii: S0009-2797(17)31134-1. Apoptosis induction and inhibition of HeLa cell proliferation by alpha-naphthoflavone and resveratrol are aryl hydrocarbon receptor-independent.