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Cranberries versus Cancer

Drug companies and supplement manufacturers have yet to isolate the components of cranberries that suppress cancer cell growth.

May 13, 2013 |
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Sources Cited

M. H. Grace, A. R. Massey, F. Mbeunkui, G. G. Yousef, M. A. Lila. Comparison of health-relevant flavonoids in commonly consumed cranberry products. J. Food Sci. 2012 77(8):H176 - 183

T. Wilson, J. L. Luebke, E. F. Morcomb, E. J. Carrell, M. C. Leveranz, L. Kobs, T. P. Schmidt, P. J. Limburg, N. Vorsa, A. P. Singh. Glycemic responses to sweetened dried and raw cranberries in humans with type 2 diabetes. J. Food Sci. 2010 75(8):H218 - 223

J. A. Vinson, P. Bose, J. Proch, H. A. Kharrat, N. Samman. Cranberries and cranberry products: Powerful in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo sources of antioxidants. J. Agric. Food. Chem. 2008 56(14):5884 - 5891

J. Sun, Y.-F. Chu, X. Wu, R. H. Liu. Antioxidant and antiproliferative activities of common fruits. J. Agric. Food. Chem. 2002 50(25):7449 - 7454

C. C. Neto. Cranberries: Ripe for more cancer research? J. Sci. Food Agric. 2011 91(13):2303 - 2307

B. Déziel, J. MacPhee, K. Patel, A. Catalli, M. Kulka, C. Neto, K. Gottschall-Pass, R. Hurta. American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) extract affects human prostate cancer cell growth via cell cycle arrest by modulating expression of cell cycle regulators. Food Funct 2012 3(5):556 - 564

N. P. Seeram, L. S. Adams, M. L. Hardy, D. Heber. Total cranberry extract versus its phytochemical constituents: Antiproliferative and synergistic effects against human tumor cell lines. J. Agric. Food. Chem. 2004 52(9):2512 - 2517

. Cassidy, É. J. O'Reilly, C. Kay, L. Sampson, M. Franz, J. P. Forman, G. Curhan, E. B. Rimm. Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2011 93(2):338 - 347

K. Kitdamrongsont, P. Pothavorn, S. Swangpol, S. Wongniam, K. Atawongsa, J. Svasti, J. Somana. Anthocyanin composition of wild bananas in Thailand. J. Agric. Food. Chem. 2008 56(22):10853 - 10857

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Acknowledgements

Images thanks to  Shaw Girl.

Transcript

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.

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.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

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

 If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Cory Goldblatt

    Where can you buy raw frozen cranberries? I’ve looked online and I can only find the dried cranberries with vegetable oil and sugar. Is this something that they sell at costco or whole foods? Thanks for your time.

    • Michael Law

      I got mine from health food store (Central Market in Texas) in frozen food section. You could try wholefoods market.

    • Randy Sandberg

      I buy mine at Whole Foods Market and my local Fred Meyer from Stahlbush Island Farms.

    • Ralph

      Costco sells three pound bags of fresh cranberries in November prior to the Thanksgiving holiday which can be frozen. I generally buy three or four bags and store them in the freezer and use a quarter cup of them in my smoothie once every other day or so. Four bags seems to last me about a year or more.

    • Cory Goldblatt

      Thanks for the info! I’ll probably head to whole foods this week and buy several bags.

    • Jon

      What about freeze dried cranberries? Are they as good as frozen?

    • http://macsmiley.tumblr.com/ MacSmiley

      I get my frozen cranberries at my local supermarket. Dole sells them by the pound which is 8 servings of 55g in each package. One serving goes into my smoothie every morning.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.lundeen Dan Lundeen

    Dr G thanks for this additional nail in the coffin of the supplement industry and nutrient micromanagement. This phenomenon where whole foods work but supplements rarely do is explained by T Colin Campbell in his new book Whole. Great read btw.

    • Randy Sandberg

      Dan, thanks for letting us know about T. Colin Campbell’s new book “Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition”. I just bought it from Audible.com and am looking forward to listening to it!

  • Randy Sandberg

    Every morning I have a smoothie for breakfast that includes 2 bananas, 1 cup berries, 1 cup plain soy milk (soy beans are the only ingredient), 1 bunch kale or collard greens, 1 tbsp ground flaxseeds, 1 tbsp hemp hearts, 6 ice cubes, and 1.5 cups water. And, of course, sometimes the berries I add are frozen raw cranberries from Stahlbush Island Farms. They certainly add a pop to my mornings unlike any other berry I have. SUPER tasty!

  • painterguy

    Drats! I just read that my dried cranberries, that I’ve been eating for years, have sugar added to them. I have eaten whole cranberries, straight from the bag, but that didn’t last long. I’m thinking about blending with a Vitamix. I could put whole cranberries in the blender, along with sweeter fruit, to get a better taste.

  • http://www.facebook.com/skowarsky Steve Kowarsky

    After yesterday’s video, I tried adding frozen cranberries to my morning smoothie in the Vitamix – which is quite similar to Randy’s described below. It worked very well. The cranberry tartness is offset by the sweetness of other fruits, and the combination is tasty. So, “painterguy” – yes, that seems to work and seems like a very good idea in light of today’s video.

  • B

    I’ve been putting frozen cranberries in my smoothies for decades. Good to hear it’s worthwhile. Bought 10 bags of fresh organics past Thanksgiving (on sale for 99 cents ;) and am on my last frozen bag. Time to go shopping! I always figured the dried sweetened ones were junk…too much sugar.

  • elsie blanche

    Beware of possible kidney stones as a result of overconsumption of cranberries (juice, fresh cranberries, dried, etc.) Maybe Dr. G can comment on this. For some people this is a real concern.

  • Ronald Chavin

    Do people who eat cranberries have a lower incidence of cancer?
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8806382

    The best place to do a study on whether or not people who eat plenty of fruits and berries that contain high amounts of tannins (such as cranberries) have lower cancer death rates would be India, not China. The people of India have many high-tannin foods in their diet:
    http://www.scgcorp.com/pdf/scg_written_11.pdf

  • Leo grossi

    I saw a documentary called “Fathead”. One part that made me think was the part that he says that Mother Nature isn’t stupid, humans cannot be the only species that crave foods that are bad for them, so meat and fatty foods cannot be bad for us…

    • b00mer

      Can’t crave things that are bad for you? Explain heroin?

  • Mike Quinoa

    Isn’t the doubling rate for cancer cells about 100 days? Or do they replicate faster in a petri dish?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Martie.says.hi Martie Anderson

    What is the best way to eat cranberry? Juice?

    • Sven

      Smoothies for sure!

  • Sven

    My favorite smoothie to date -
    250g cranberries
    30g ground flax seeds
    15g chia seeds
    15g hemp proten
    tea spoon hibiscus
    tea spoon peppermint
    tea spoon chamomile
    1 banana

    350ml rice milk

    • Thea

      Sven: ooh, that sounds yummy! Nice use of tea leaves. Thanks for sharing.

  • Oboechops

    I also buy bags of fresh cranberries at Costco & freeze them. Adding them to other mixed berries mitigates the tartness.

  • Rosie

    OK — combining goodness of a few videos, how about orange juice + frozen banana + flax seed meal + frozen cranberries for one great smoothie! (sometimes I’ll sneak raw carrots in as well.) Go Vitamix!

  • cyril

    Concentrations of 25 and 50 um/ml may be a smidgen, but seem very high for in-vivo prostatic concentrations.

    I am speaking from the perspective of chronic bacterial prostatitis, not cancer.

    To quote an article related to prostate drug penetration:
    http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/12/1641.full

    “Only free, non-protein-bound antibiotic molecules enter tissues. Ordinarily, substances with molecular weights of <1000 pass through openings (fenestrae) between capillary endothelial cells, but prostate capillaries are nonporous. Passage of a drug through prostatic capillary endothelium and prostatic epithelium is enhanced by a high concentration gradient, high lipid solubility, low degree of ionization, high dissociation constant (pKa; allowing diffusion of the unionized component into the prostate), low protein binding, and small molecular size"

  • jtbzz

    Surprised that erythritol was included. I thought it was something to avoid.