Anti-Cancer Nutrient Synergy in Cranberries

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Anticancer Nutrient Synergy in Cranberries

In research I profiled in my video Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better?, cranberries were found to suppress the growth of human liver cancer cells in vitro. Other studies have found similar effects against human breast, colon, brain tumor, oral, and ovarian cancer cells. In my 4-min video Cranberries versus Cancer I profile 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 tiny amount of cranberries, that exponential cancer growth can be blocked.

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.

In my video Cranberries versus Cancer I show a graph with some of the various phytonutrients in cranberries. Different fractions were tested against various types of cancer to find the magic bullet. Various fractions of phytonutrients inhibited colon cancer cell proliferation about 15 percent, but nothing compared to the total extract of the whole fruit. There seems to be additive or synergistic anti-proliferative 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 five percent 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 seven 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 dried cranberries every day, but the preference for raw cranberries sloped down toward 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”? Cranberry cocktail is usually 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 with added vitamin C, canceling out some of the cranberry benefit. So how do you get the upsides without the down? Check out my Pink Juice with Green Foam video, where I offer a recipe for making no added sugar whole fruit cranberry cocktail.

And for another reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup: Mercury in Corn Syrup?

More on nutrient synergy in:

Suppressing cancer growth in a petri dish is nice, but what about within the human body? Check out my videos 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.


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.

25 responses to “Anticancer Nutrient Synergy in Cranberries

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  1. This is a great time to get cranberries–fresh in bags. When the season is over, you can only find them at Whole Foods where they are about twice the price they are now at other markets. I bought a lot of bags and froze them. We have our cranberries in a big Vita Mix smoothie every day with other fruits to cancel their bitter taste, and lots of greens.

  2. The problem with cranberries it the taste indeed. Our
    website may be partially helpful in finding substitutes:

    .. add free. If the number of users increases we will consider also adding the 3100 antioxidant list, mentioned in other videos by Dr Greger

  3. The Knudsen company makes a drink called, “Just Cranberry” it’s 100% pure cranberry juice and is NOT a cocktail but it is very sour and hard to drink straight. We mix it with OJ or other juices.

  4. “…we only absorb a small fraction of the cranberry phytonutrients we eat into our bloodstream.”

    Does it follow from this that eating a few throughout the day would maximize their anti-cancer effect? Also, what sort of proportions would have maximal effect? Is eating over the cup a day that you mention counter-productive, or a waste?

  5. I like frozen cranberries with steel-cut oats, a few walnuts, and some unsweetened soy milk (and it looks purty too). I don’t really notice any objectionable tartness, but then I like really sour fruits.

  6. I just really like cranberries and you can pretty much only find fresh cranberries around thanksgiving. So every year in November, I buy 12 bags of fresh cranberries from Costco and stuff them in my freezer. Every morning, I have oatmeal with unsweetened soy milk and I put a large handful of cranberries in. My friends laugh when they open the freezer because why the hell are there so many cranberries?! Cuz it lasts me a whole year! Now I can tell them because Doctor Greger says so! :-P

  7. I’ve created a really tasty dessert with cranberries. Simply throw some fresh frozen cranberries in a Cuisinart style food processor and chop into small pieces and put in a mix bowl. Do these same with a black plumb. Same with honeydew melon (or any other really sweet melon) but mix more thoroughly, to a near liquid. Mix all three together thoroughly, add a bit of erythritol if it’s not sweet enough for you. Served this recently and both people really liked it.

    1. Tobias: I’m trying to imagine the consistency of this treat. Did you serve it like a pudding with a spoon? Or a smoothie?

      Just curious. It sounds very good!

      1. It’s a rough chop except for the melon which is more liquidy. This serves to coat the sour cranberries in sweetness. Also, there’s something about the black plumb skin that gives a nice texture. I just serve it in a small bowl with a spoon and maybe sprinkle some erythritol on top, or I’ll eat a large bowl myself. If you let it set a couple of minutes the melon juice begins to accumulate in the bottom of the bowl in red from the cranberries which are themselves close at the end of their thaw. Because the cranberries are cold, it give the whole dish a refreshingly cool aspect. Maybe some spice could even kick it up a notch. Never tried cinnamon but that would be my first test.

  8. I began adding cranberries to my vitamix smoothies 5+ years ago while going through chemo for advanced ovarian cancer and I add a handful to oatmeal in the last 3 minutes of cooking. A book I read by some Canadian cancer researchers called, Foods that Fight Cancer, listed them along with berries in general. I think this is one of the food inhibitors making a difference–been told I am a statistical outlier, and now just discovered I am BRCA1, which means a 20-30% chance of even being here in the flesh to comment. Best time to buy them is after Thanksgiving when they go on sale, wash them and freeze them. They cost ~$2/bag then, otherwise, during the year they are $3-$5 frozen.
    I am thrilled to get your videos every week. As an MCB, I have done my own research into food healing and your presentations rock. Thank you.

    1. Sounds great! I myself would skip the olive oil and add some balsamic or fruit vinegar. I don’t know if brand names should be mentioned here but I love Cuisine Perel vinegars that my grocery store carries.

      1. Sue: For whatever it’s worth, I think it’s fine to share our favorite brands with each other. It’s a nice tip.

        I remember hearing a talk some time ago from ?Esselstyne? (I think) where he talked about getting a “really nice” vinegar. I wanted some recommendations so that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time trying find the “good stuff.” I’m not really a vinegar fan and wanted to skip the experimentation if possible.

        So, I particularly appreciate your vinegar recommendation. I’m going to check it out. Thanks for sharing!

        1. Hey, Thea, thanks–I like that brand of vinegar because they have a potent delicious flavor but aren’t bitingly sharp like most vinegars. They’re expensive but I find a little goes a long way. You can add one of the vinegars to berries and/or cashews/hemp seeds, blend it all in a powerful blender like a Vitamix and use that as your dressing. Mmmm. :)

  9. Please clarify why the 1 cup of fresh cranberries has the antioxidant potency 7 cups of dried cranberries. Is it totally the pro-oxidative effect of the sweetener? Or is it the process of drying/heating the fruit? Something else? Since dried fruit is more concentrated than fresh, you’d think it would take 8 or nine (or more?) cups of fresh cranberries to make the 7 cups of dried cranberries. One reason I ask is the suggestions below of cooking the berries with oatmeal (sounds luscious!). Would that destroy any of the desirable properties?

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