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Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better?

The ability of eleven common fruits to suppress cancer cell growth in vitro was compared. Which was most effective—apples, bananas, cranberries, grapefruits, grapes, lemons, oranges, peaches, pears, pineapples, or strawberries?

May 10, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

A. Cassidy, C. Kay, E. Rimm. Anthocyanin analysis in banana fruit. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2011 93(4):865-866.

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

P. E. Milbury, J. A. Vita, J. B. Blumberg. Anthocyanins are bioavailable in humans following an acute dose of cranberry juice. J. Nutr. 2010 140(6):1099 - 1104

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

A. 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

Podmore ID, Griffiths HR, Herbert KE, Mistry N, Mistry P, Lunec J. Vitamin C exhibits pro-oxidant properties. Nature. 1998 Apr;392(6676):559.

Milbury PE, Vita JA, Blumberg JB. Anthocyanins are bioavailable in humans following an acute dose of cranberry juice. J Nutr. 2010 Jun;140(6):1099-104. Epub 2010 Apr 7.

Eberhardt MV, Lee CY, Liu RH. Antioxidant activity of fresh apples. Nature. 2000 Jun;405(6789):903-904.

Acknowledgements

Images thanks to atul666, Brian Prechtel, Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, Hugowolfth-Floor, Renee Comet,  J.smithEvan-Amos and David Monniaux via Wikimedia Commons

Transcript

There are many ways to compare the healthfulness of different foods. One can compare nutrient content, for example. So if you were interested in antioxidants you might compare vitamin C levels. If you did that with our two most popular fruits, apples and bananas, based on vitamin C content bananas would appear twice as healthy, 10 mg in a banana compared to only 5mg in an apple. But vitamin C is just one of thousands of different phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables. Turns out the vitamin C in apples accounts for less than 1% of an apple's total antioxidant activity.

Here's the total antioxidant content of a red delicious apple. Here's how much the vitamin C in the apple contributes. You can hardly even see it. Even though there's only about 5mg of vitamin C in a small apple, it has the antioxidant equivalent of 1500 mg of vitamin C. I've reviewed before how taking that much vitamin C straight in a supplement may actually have a pro-oxidant effect and cause DNA damage, but you can get three times that antioxidant power eating an apple, without the adverse effects.

Of course there's more than just vitamin C in bananas too. In fact I was surprised to see this study out of Harvard suggesting that not only blueberries and strawberries, but bananas was a significant source of anthocyanins, the red/blue/violet phytonutrients found in berries. Maybe I underestimated bananas. They are after all, technically berries.

Still, I'm looking three fruits and I'm seeing some anthocyanins here and here, but not seeing much red, blue, or violet here. Now wild bananas are a different story. There's anthocyanins in blue, purple, orange red, red purple, and pink purple bananas, but none in yellow… So the Harvard researchers were challenged on it and they said look, we just took values from the USDA, and it turns out USDA apparently made a mistake. No anthocyanins in bananas, and despite twice the vitamin C, bananas were beat out by apples in terms of overall antioxidant power. But that's just measuring the ability of these fruits to quench an oxidation reaction in a test tube. It would be nice to measure actual biological activity. For example in this apple study, they also measured the ability of apple extracts, from both peeled and unpeeled apples, to suppress the growth of human cancer cells growing in a petri dish compared to control. Wouldn't it be great to be able to compare that kind of superpower between different fruits. Well, now we can.

Here is a graph of cancer cell proliferation versus increasing concentrations of the 11 most common fruits eaten in the United States. They decided to use liver cancer for this study. If you drip water on these cancer cells as a control, nothing happens they start out powering away at 100% growth and they keep powering away at 100% growth. And pineapples, pears, and oranges don't do much better. Peaches start pulling away from the pack. At high peach concentrations, cancer cell proliferation drops about 10%, but bananas and grapefruits work about 4 times better, dropping cancer growth rates by about 40%. Red grapes, strawberries and apples do even better, cutting cancer cell growth up to half at only half the dose, but these two fruits are the winners, causing a dramatic drop in cancer proliferation at just tiny doses, lemons, and, cranberries. So if you look at the effective dose required to suppress liver cancer cell proliferation, apples are more powerful than bananas, but cranberries win the day. And there was no effective dose listed for orange, pear, and pineapple since they didn't appear to affect the cancer cell growth at all.

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 Jonathan Hodgson.

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

Dr. Michael Greger
  • Jessica Hess

    Hi Dr. Gregor. I am wondering if change the cancer cells used if we would see different results? Or can we assume that these will fight other cancer cells too? How does that work?

    • elaine

      Read Richard Beliveau’s book “Foods that fight cancer” where he tested different cancer cells with different foods. His research is also a large part of Dr. David Servan-Schreiber’s book titled Anti-cancer.

  • Jose

    Great piece! Many thanks! I’m guessing that drinking cranberry juice (as opposed to eating cranberries) would have a comparable benefit?

  • http://www.facebook.com/matty.ciuccio Matty Ciuccio

    Make them into a fruit salad. Yum!

  • Paul

    Interesting that the fruit concentrations that did the best were those lowest in sugar. I mean lemons and cranberries are both low sugar, sour and tart fruits. I wonder if some of the effectiveness in fighting cancer cells was not only the presence of antioxidants but also the absence of sugar/carbs?

    • Thea

      Paul: Thank you for your comment. I was scratching my head trying to figure out why oranges would have such a different effect than lemons. Your observation is helpful.

      It also raised this question for me: I’m not going to eat a lemon the same way that I would eat an orange. I have to put the lemon in other things and usually something that does make it sweeter. For example, lemonade. Lemonade is perhaps an extreme example where one is actually adding sugar to lemon water, but here’s my thought: *IF* it were true that the natural sugars in some fruits make those fruits less effective in fighting cancer, would you have the same lessening of effectiveness of lemon by the way that people actually eat lemon?

      Just a thought.

      Thanks again.

      • b00mer

        Just chiming in here- I go through a lot of lemons, and almost never in the context of sweet. I think it’s rare that I make an entree type dish that doesn’t have at least some lemon in it. It’s a great flavor enhancer and I think it allows me to use less salt. I think I eat a lot of middle eastern food. But also most pasta dishes, tomato based dishes, stews, soups, etc. They all get lemon! :)

        Also btw Thea, the Chickpea & Onion stew is amazing! I’ve made it four times now :)

        • Thea

          b00mer: Good points! Not everyone is as sweet-focused as I am.

          Thanks for the feedback about the stew. I’m so glad you like it. The true test of a dish is whether or not someone would eat or make it again. Your answer is most clear. :-)

        • Bob

          Where is this Chickpea & Onion stew recipe you speak of? Sounds great.

          • b00mer

            Hi Bob, the recipe is from Lorna Sass’s “Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure”, which is an awesome cookbook I would definitely recommend purchasing if you have a pressure cooker. But that recipe in particular you can find here: http://mealsteps.com/recipe/chickpea_stew_with_sweet_onions

            Enjoy!

          • Thea

            b00mer: Thanks for finding this link! Someone else on NutritionFacts has asked for good recipes with beans. I was going to mention this recipe along with some other ideas, but I love that I can now point the person to an actual recipe in addition to mentioning the cookbook. Thanks.

            FYI: to anyone interested. One of my tweaks for this recipe is to add a bunch of sliced mushrooms to the pot. Also, I experiment with various beans. I particularly like this dish with red kidney beans. Just some ideas.

    • Margo

      After having many cancers in my family, I finally had a Doctor tell me that carbs are cancer fuel!!! And if you are trying to fight cancer, limit the carbs.

  • Don

    As of today, I’m changing the make-up of my fruit and vegetable smoothies. With “thanks” and “appreciation”. :-))

  • Thea

    I so love this video! It’s long and detailed enough to tell a great and interesting story.

    Like others, now I want to see this same type of experiment performed on other fruits and other foods and other cancers. And performed with food combos – like real cranberry juice that people drink which have added sugars. So, so interesting!

    I learned several things today. One of them was the real shocker: Bananas are a kind of berry? Wow. I did not know that. Cool.

    • Plantstrongdoc

      Just for illustration – could be interesting to see the same experiment with dissolved meat (I know – disgusting!) or eggs, maybe dairy or olive oil. My guess: Nothing happens – maybe growth of the cancer cells?

      • http://www.facebook.com/darryl.roy.752 Darryl Roy

        Most work on meat extracts examine its association with colon cancer, where heme from red meat is known to damage, promote hyperproliferation and inhibit apoptosis of colon epithelial cells.

        It seems this proproliferative effect of a meat extract can be halted with spinach.

        de Vogel, Johan, et al. “Green vegetables, red meat and colon cancer: chlorophyll prevents the cytotoxic and hyperproliferative effects of haem in rat colon.” Carcinogenesis 26.2 (2005): 387-393.
        http://carcin.oxfordjournals.org/content/26/2/387.full.pdf+html

        • Plantstrongdoc

          Darryl,

          Thanks – very interesting article.

  • mcooks

    Did I hear correctly that other varieties of bananas contain anthocyanins? I live in South America where there are a great variety of bananas, including my favorite, red bananas. Do they actually contain more antioxidants that the plain yellow ones sold in the States? Thanks for all the great information.

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

    Nice vid! Wondering how the anti-cancer effects of EATING some fruits compares with NOT EATING any animal protein? I’d like to know if my no-animal consumption would dwarf the effects of being selective about what kinds of fruit I choose. Just guessing, but according to Dr. Campbell in Whole, eliminating meat/dairy/eggs/fish etc. has a much larger preventative and cure effect for most cancers than most cancer treatment drugs/therapies.

    PS were they liver cancer cells from a vegan or non-vegan??

  • Thinkabouddit

    I recently heard that, to fight some particular disease, our organic apples and pears are now doused in antibiotics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/darryl.roy.752 Darryl Roy

    Unfortunately, no one has followed up this 2002 Liu lab comparative fruit study with a more comprehensive one. The U. Québec 2009 study really broadened and deepened the 2002 Liu lab comparative vegetable study.

    I suspect a more comprehensive fruit study would offer parallel results, generalizing benefits to entire classes of fruit like berries and concentrated citrus, much as the cruciferous and alium vegetable families ran away from the pack in the 2009 study.

    The Liu lab also did a comparative antioxidant and antiproliferative study on nuts. Walnuts and pecans got the highest accolades, as they often do:
    Yang, Jun, Rui Hai Liu, and Linna Halim. “Antioxidant and antiproliferative activities of common edible nut seeds.” LWT-Food Science and Technology42.1 (2009): 1-8.
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0023643808001771

  • R Ian Flett

    The lemon and orange comparison is interesting and presumably it’s the limonin rather than vitamin C that’s the more important factor. They do not specifically mention peel, pulp or the seed, which is highest in lemonin.
    Smaller lemons are more potent. Lemon peel can be toxic if taken in high doses. We already have grape seed extract, but need to add lemon seed extract to our supplement arsenal. It has a long half life and seems beneficial to the liver also.

    I don’t understand why cranberries were singled out in this study when blackberries have higher antioxidant activity according to previous studies shown on this site.

    • Guest

      The blackberry antioxidant value was published in 2010.

      This comparative fruit study dates from 2002. Maybe not the “Latest in Clinical Nutrition”, but its still the most recent comparative study on antiproliferative activities of fruit.

  • Analisa

    What about kiwi? btw, love, love, love this site! :))

  • Ronald Chavin

    The 4 best fruits for cancer prevention are olives (hydroxytyrosol), amalaki (gallic acid), haritaki (chebulinic acid and chebulagic acid), and bibhitaki (belleric acid, bellericoside, and bellericanin):
    http://www.lipidworld.com/content/10/1/127

    It’s a smart precaution to consume fruits that contain substantial amounts of tannins as capsules or tablets instead of eating them fresh, drinking them as herbal teas, or mixing their powders into drinks. The reason is that our digestive juices will deactivate the cancer-causing threat from tannins. That’s why tannins, which are the most powerful antioxidants in the human diet, have never caused cancer beyond the lower stomach and have been implicated in causing only cancers of the mouth, nose, throat, esophagus, and upper stomach:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19325180
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21517263
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22296352
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19123468
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/187761
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3412210
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1417698
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15532874
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12464852
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9528134
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4037999
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8585514
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7860613

    In real populations of real people, fruits tend to be less effective than legumes, allium vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables at preventing cancer:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18356334
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19653110

  • Brent Mendelssohn

    Please hire someone else to narrate your videos. I can barely understand you. Your narration sounds like someone trying to talk underwater with a mouthful of marbles.

    • Lyra

      I have no problem understanding Dr. Gregor. I like his voice just fine, and frankly I think you’re being rude. This the rare doctor who is actually saving lives. You should be more appreciative. Just saying.

    • Thea

      I too have no problems understanding the video. Everyone has different ears and brains, so maybe you just don’t work well with these videos. However, (and I mean the following suggestion in all sincerity and kindness), I wonder if you should get your hearing checked? Or your computer hardware? No one else seems to have a problem….

      Happily, those with hearing problems can read the transcript – a feature that Dr. Greger so kindly provides on this site. Just click on the link above.

      Good luck.

  • BBN

    I was disappointed to hear you casually mention that supplemental vit c may have pro-oxidant effects. The source you provide for this is a 1998 publication. You fail to mention the many more recent studies which reach the opposite conclusion. While I support using foods vs concentrated supplements for the best nutrition, I think it is a mistake to discourage use of vit c supplements – since many folks may benefit from this who may otherwise not adhere to a good plant-based diet. What happened? You usually are more balanced in your review of the literature.
    BN

    • http://www.facebook.com/darryl.roy.752 Darryl Roy

      This review is somewhat in agreement:

      Lykkesfeldt & Poulsen. “Is vitamin C supplementation beneficial? Lessons learned from randomised controlled trials.” Brit J Nutrition 103.9 (2010): 1251. http://www.wealthandhealth.ltd.uk/articles/Is%20vitamin%20C%20supplementation%20beneficial.pdf

      “supplementation with vitamin C is likely to be without effect for the majority of the Western population due to saturation through their normal diet”, “large subpopulations, for example, smokers, do not achieve the RDA of vitamin C”, unfortunately “those individuals most likely to benefit from supplements also are those least likely to get them”

      That said, its still better to get vitamin C from food.

      Agarwal, M, et al. “Differing Relations to Early Atherosclerosis between Vitamin C from Supplements vs. Food in the Los Angeles Atherosclerosis Study: A Prospective Cohort Study.” The Open Cardiovascular Medicine Journal 6 (2012): 113.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3447163/

      Rautiainen, S., et al. “Vitamin C supplements and the risk of age-related cataract: a population-based prospective cohort study in women.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 91.2 (2010): 487-493. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/2/487.full

  • Lawrence

    Another information packed video! I already eat red delicious apples with skin on a regular basis thanks to Dr. Greger. Now, I’ll be upping my lemon intake in various ways and will snap up fresh cranberries whenever available and freeze them for use throughout the year. QUESTION: Using the data for lemons, for example, what is the blender recipe for obtaining a beverage that would contain, say, ’40 mg/ml concentration of fruit extract?’ In other words, how can I say definitively that I am drinking a therapeutic mixture as opposed to something tasty and refreshing but not even close to getting me on the lemon curve as shown. Thanks!

  • John Rehl

    Any idea where pomegranate (juice) might fit? It seems as if it would have a similar profile to cranberry, but is not considered in the study ?

  • Constance Baggetta

    do you have a healthy diet for weight loss…..

  • HereHere

    This research begs more research. I’d love to know about the effectiveness of limes, rhubarb, and mango.

  • Molly

    I cook my oatmeal with a few chopped halawi dates and 1/2 cup of cranberries every day, and it’s really good. Top it off with homemade almond milk and chia seeds or ground flax seeds and it’s a good way to cram in a lot of nutrition first thing in the morning.

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

    What happened to the Kiwi? That was the winner in one study?

  • Karen Zurawski

    I have been diagnosed with uterine cancer. The Oncologist said I cannot eat raw fruit and vegetables because of bacteria. Everything must be cooked. I am a Vegan and I miss my salads. What I read is to eat veggies and fruit. I value your opinion and would appreciate your opinion and advice.
    Karen Zurawski

    • Nan S

      I disagree with your doctor. Little bacteria penetrates the skin of fruit and bacteria is destroyed by stomach acid. Even cooking doesn’t destroy all bacteria.

  • val

    Should we be eating the ENTIRE lemon or is this video only about lemon JUICE? Thanks!

    • Dr. Connie Sanchez, ND

      The video is explaining the antiproliferative effects of specific fruits on liver cancer. Lemons and cranberries appear to be the most effective in supressing cancer growth. Juices are concentrated forms of nutrients, however, eating the whole fruit you get the whole nutritional package which includes the fiber. Limonene is one of the major components found in lemon and has demonstrated anticancer activity. The white pith of the lemon has been shown to contain the highest content of limonene.

  • wilma

    are freeze dried powders of strawberries ,blueberries and citrus fruits as good as the fresh variety for health benefits I have a few different ones we add to our cereal every morning

  • TitusLivy

    Thank you for including the complete citations for articles you reference in your videos. Now can you please convince the relevant journals to grant free (or reasonably) priced access? Sadly, they continue to act as though every interested party were affiliated with a major university and had scads of grant money to spend on subscriptions. Oh, well…in the meantime, your video summaries are an excellent stop gap. Thanks!

    • Youcef

      There are many options to go around that :
      1) You’ve got Deepdyve now as a decent option for people who to have access to full-texts but are not affiliated. They had a free trial period when I open my account with them. Deepdyve does not cover all the databases so quite a number are not full-text, even with paid subscription, but they’re growing on expanding and signing contracts with bigger publishers to they can offer more access.
      2) Also do search for the article on Google with the full name, sometimes the full-text is accessible for free. You may add “filetype:PDF” at the end to extract only the PDF files.
      3) Alternatively if you have been affiliated in the past, and published, you can join ResearchGate, a number of full-texts are accessible there. Sadly they’ve not been so open to independent researchers and will expect you to show them one science publication of yours at least. I hope they open their minds a bit to the idea that one can be researcher without having to be affiliated…
      4) Many libraries offer their members access to peer-reviewed databases, their subscription can vary a lot. Also, some will require that you are in the library, others will grant you access from your online library account account from anywhere you are.
      5) You can contact the authors directly and ask them to send you a copy of the article, but check their personal research page first, because sometimes the link to a copy is there. For the authors who have the time, I suppose they take pride in sharing with you their research.
      6) You can ask a friend who is affiliated to a uni or the likes, from experience it’s best to ask them articles in bulk instead of whenever you need them. Some close friends may event grant you full access to their uni account or to their laptop with access, but that obviously comes with safety and liability issues as most user conditions require that the credentials are strictly not shared with other people.

  • Mark

    Cranberries aren’t eaten whole & raw. Is there an _edible_ form of cranberry that delivers the full anti-cancer effect?

  • Mark

    Eat the lemon? There’s much evidence that juice’s inferior to whole fruit. Who’s eating whole raw lemons?

  • http://www.eatandbeatcancer.com/ Harriet Sugar Miller

    What parts of the lemon were tested? Does anybody have a copy of the study? I’ve always heard that the peel and pith are particularly healthy. http://eatandbeatcancer.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/anti-cancer-foods-lemons-limes-limonene/

  • Scott

    What about blueberries??

  • Larry

    Grapes and bananas finshed 5th and 6th but I can easily eat a pound of grapes or 8 bananas. When I do, I can skip my pasta or beans for that meal. Do 8 bananas pack more anti-cancer punch than 1 lemon or one cup of cranberries?

  • kali

    The narrator has such a boring tone of voice… and when do we get to the cancer-fighting stuff?

  • Youcef

    More importantly than trying with other fruits is carrying out the same study in vivo (as opposed to in vitro like in this study).
    In vitro studies along with studies on animals are less meaningful than in vivo. This holds particularly true when it’s about the effect of diet, since food is processed differently by different animal species. We don’t need to go that far, there are measurable differences just between different people. Also, a petri dish on which you put fruit extracts is nothing like the cell in the human body, fed by the body with whatever conditions resulted from digestion and metabolism.