Blueberry consumption may double the population of our cancer fighting immune cells, and the spices cardamom and black pepper may boost their activity.
Images thanks to VancityAllie via Flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise and Jeff Thomas for his Keynote help.
For disease prevention and health maintenance, berries of all colors have emerged as champions. Most of the work has focused on cancer prevention and treatment. Studies show that the anticancer effects of berries are partially mediated through their abilities to counteract, reduce, and also repair damage resulting from oxidative stress and inflammation. They may also boost detoxifying enzymes and a bunch of other things, but this is new.
The effect of blueberry ingestion on natural killer cell counts. Natural killer cells are part of our immune system's rapid response team against cancer cells, taking them out through the activation of cancer cell suicide via death receptors. They're called natural killers because they don't require activation by prior exposure. You don't want to have to wait until your second tumor before your immune system starts fighting.
We have about 2 billion of these soldiers circulating in our blood stream at any one time but we may be able to get a troop surge with blueberries. They had athletes eat about a cup and a half a day for 6 weeks to see if that would reduce the oxidative stress of long-distance running, and indeed that's what they saw, no surprise, a blunting of the spike in oxidant stress, but that's not what sets this study apart.
The number of natural killer cells in the blood typically decreases after prolonged endurance exercise, dropping by half to only about 1 billion--unless you've been eating lots of blueberries, in which case you can end up here, because six weeks of blueberries doubled the number of natural killer cells up to over 4 billion. This has never before been demonstrated in humans consuming blueberries. Well no one's ever looked before. There was a study done on goji berries and despite a cup a day for a month, there was no significant change in the number of natural killer cells.
There was a study, though, that showed a significant increase in natural killer cell activity thanks to the spice cardamom. Hmm, cardamom and blueberries—I never thought we'd be fighting cancer with blueberry muffins, but check this out: You take some lymphoma cells in a petri dish and you add cardamom and… nothing happens. If however you add some natural killer cells about 5% of the cancer cells are wiped out. But then you add a little cardamom and your troops do a little better, and then if you add more and more and all the sudden—same number of natural killer cells, but they're now able to kill off 10 times more cancer cells. And remember cardamom alone, even at the highest dose, had no effect on cancer cells, but it seemed to really enhance our NK cells' killer instincts.
The same thing found for black pepper. Black pepper alone: nothing. Add a little black pepper: no effect, but with enough there seemed to be a boosting effect, to up around 30 or 40% cancer cell clearance. And if you add them both together, they synergize and you double their individual actions. Taken together, these data strongly suggest that black pepper and cardamom have the potential to markedly enhance the anti-cancer activity of natural killer cells.
And then imagine if you had twice as many in your bloodstream, thanks to this study brought to you by, of course, the North American Blueberry Council and the North Carolina Blueberry Council. But then the last sentence is my favorite. There were no conflicts of interests.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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Exercise itself can improve immune function in general (Preserving Immune Function in Athletes With Nutritional Yeast), but the blueberry finding, so far, is unique. The oxidative stress part of the story is told in Reducing Muscle Soreness With Berries.
Just because the study was funded by the blueberry councils doesn’t necessarily mean the science is suspect, but you would want to see this independently verified, especially a finding so dramatic.
What else can berries do? Check out:
You can check out my blueberry smoothie recipe here in A Better Breakfast.
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