Which Common Fruit Fights Cancer Better?

Image Credit: kanenas.net / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Which Common Fruit Fights Cancer Better?

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

There are many ways to compare the healthfulness of different foods. For example, if you were interested in antioxidants you might compare vitamin C content. If you compared vitamin C content between our two most popular fruits, apples and bananas, then 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. It turns out the vitamin C in apples accounts for less than 1 percent of an apple’s total antioxidant activity.

In my 5-min video Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better? I show a graph of the total antioxidant content of a red delicious apple. The amount contributed to the vitamin C is so tiny you can hardly see it. Even though there are 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 (in my video Preventing Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress With Watercress), 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. I was surprised to see a study out of Harvard suggesting that bananas were a significant source of anthocyanins, the red/blue/violet phytonutrients found in berries. Maybe I underestimated bananas? They are, after all, technically berries.

Anthocyanins have been found in blue, purple, orange-red, red-purple, and pink-purple wild bananas, but none in domesticated yellow. In the Harvard researchers’ defense, they just took values from the USDA, and it turns out USDA apparently made a mistake. There are no anthocyanins in store-bought bananas, and despite twice the vitamin C, bananas are 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.

In the red delicious apple study, researchers 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!

In my video Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better? I show a graph of cancer cell proliferation versus increasing concentrations of the 11 most common fruits eaten in the United States. If you drip water on these cancer cells as a control, nothing happens. They start out powering away at 100 percent growth and they keep powering away at 100 percent 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 percent, but bananas and grapefruits appear to work four times better, dropping cancer growth rates by about 40 percent. Red grapes, strawberries and apples do even better, cutting cancer cell growth up to half at only half the dose, but the two fruits that won, causing a dramatic drop in cancer proliferation at just tiny doses, were 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.

This study reminded me of my #1 Anticancer Vegetable video (along with its “prequel,” Veggies vs. Cancer).

Other videos in which I rank various foods include:

How can you consume cranberries palatably, though? Check out my recipe for Pink Juice with Green Foam and my video Cranberries versus Cancer.

More berried treasure in Strawberries versus Esophageal Cancer and Black Raspberries versus Oral Cancer.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


14 responses to “Which Common Fruit Fights Cancer Better?

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  1. Aloha Dr.

    In this blog you say

    I’ve reviewed before how taking that much vitamin C straight in a supplement may actually have apro-oxidant effect and cause DNA damage (in my video Are Vitamin C Pills Good For You?), but you can get three times that antioxidant power eating an apple, without the adverse effects.

    However, when we went to the link there was no mention of how “Vitamin C supplements can have a pro-oxidant effect and cause DNA damage”. Did you link to the wrong video or?

    Jeff and Karen Hay

  2. While there is a lot great information around fruits and veggies fighting cancers, I’d be interested in looking at which fruits and veggies fight Lupus the best.

    Not a lot of information out there around nutrition’s effect on Lupus.

    1. Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, maybe the most respected in the world, suggests that all people with Lupus avoid garlic. They also suggest to avoid alfalfa sprouts and echinacea as well.

      Please don’t take this lightly. So many people think “oh, it’s natural, it must be good for my autoimmune system/issue. Apparently this is not so in those with lupus, as well as other autoimmune issues.

      http://www.hopkinslupus.org/lu

  3. Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, maybe the most respected in the world, suggests that all people with Lupus avoid garlic. They also suggest to avoid alfalfa sprouts and echinacea as well.

    Please don’t take this lightly. So many people think “oh, it’s natural, it must be good for my autoimmune system/issue. Apparently this is not so in those with lupus, as well as other autoimmune issues.

    http://www.hopkinslupus.org/lupus-info/lifestyle-additional-information/avoid/

  4. Dr. Greger,

    In your medical practice, have you come across individuals who developed problems with fruit? I have been following Dr. Fuhrman’s health regimen for about two years, with great results. However, a bit more than a year ago I started having a strange skin reaction to fruit. The reaction resembles tinea pedis, but comes back even after treatment with topical antifungal agents. Over time, I made the connection that on high fruit days, especially after making something with dates, mango, or banana (like frozen fruit desserts), the areas on my feet that are affected would have a very unpleasant itching and burning sensation at night time. I did not want to believe that it was the fruit, but an elimination diet clearly showed that it is. Beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and even suboptimal foodstuffs like sugar do not have an effect, but fruit and muscobado sugar do. At this point, I am sticking to Dr. Fuhrman’s plan, but only eating one serving or less of fruit per day, which is hard sledding because I do like fruit and it is a shame to miss out on all the fantastic nutrients you are teaching us about, though I realize that there are a few populations in the world that traditionally ate very little fruit (notably Okinawa), but still have favorable health outcomes. Does anything about this condition sound familiar to you? Could you advise?

    1. Medicine becomes fairly straight forward when you have the correct diagnosis and can render an effective treatment. I have not come across a similar case to the one you describe. You have taken the correct approach by working through the elimination diet. Regardless of your formal “diagnosis” it appears that you have a skin reaction to certain foods. Sounds like a sensible approach is to avoid the fruits and emphasize other plant foods like vegetables if you want to eat a variety of phytonutrients. By consuming starches (e.g. potatoes, rice, whole grains) you can make sure you consume enough calories. Good luck.

  5. Dear Dr Greger,

    I’m surprised to know that lemons are actually very powerful and that oranges do not do much in controlling cancer cell growth. Thank you so much for the information. I should have known that earlier as I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast CA last year. I’m done with treatments and doing my best now to eat healthy.

    I have a question regarding grapes and strawberries. I am hesitant to juice them because I’ve been reading a lot after my surgery that they have lots of chemicals. I wonder what your stance is. I did peel off the strawberries that I juiced 2 days ago, but it would be hard to peel off each grape.

    Thank you so much.

    Dolly

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