Cranberries vs. Cancer

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

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In addition to suppressing liver cancer growth in vitro, cranberries have also 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 smidgen of cranberries, or two smidgens, 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 cranberries’ 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 proanthocyanidin fraction. 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 dried. In a taste test survey, consumers said they wouldn’t mind eating sweetened cranberries every day, whereas 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-sugar-added, whole-fruit cranberry cocktail.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Shaw Girl via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In addition to suppressing liver cancer growth in vitro, cranberries have also 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 smidgen of cranberries, or two smidgens, 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 cranberries’ 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 proanthocyanidin fraction. 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 dried. In a taste test survey, consumers said they wouldn’t mind eating sweetened cranberries every day, whereas 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-sugar-added, whole-fruit cranberry cocktail.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Shaw Girl via flickr

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? See Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better?

More on nutrient synergy in:

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

Suppressing cancer growth in a petri dish is nice—but what about within the human body? Wait until you see Strawberries vs. Esophageal Cancer and Black Raspberries vs. Oral Cancer. Hold on to your hats!

Check out my associated blog posts for even more context: Which Common Fruit Fights Cancer Better?Anticancer 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.

46 responses to “Cranberries vs. Cancer

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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. This paper found cranberry concentrate tablets increased urinary oxalate and may increase the risk of nephrolithiasis:
      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090429500008840

      Another paper found cranberry juice decreased the relative supersaturation of calcium oxalate, and could hence be helpful:
      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1464-410X.2003.04472.x/full

      And this paper found that by increasing urinary acidity, cranberry juice might help with brushite and struvite stones.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12373623

      So it may matter what form the cranberries take and what kind of stones a person is predisposed to.

    1. This paper wasn’t encouraging:

      Duthie, Susan J., et al. “The effects of cranberry juice consumption on antioxidant status and biomarkers relating to heart disease and cancer in healthy human volunteers.” European Journal of nutrition 45.2 (2006): 113-122.
      http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-005-0572-9

      However the results of this study suggest that berry anthocyanins are sequestered in tissues, not plasma or urine:

      Kalt, Wilhelmina, et al. “Identification of anthocyanins in the liver, eye, and brain of blueberry-fed pigs.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 56.3 (2008): 705-712.
      http://www.researchgate.net/publication/5640785_Identification_of_anthocyanins_in_the_liver_eye_and_brain_of_blueberry-fed_pigs/file/d912f50e6f0318d449.pdf

  8. 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…

  9. 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

  10. 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!

  11. 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"

  12. I like to put one bag of fresh cranberries and one orange and 1/4 c
    maple syrup into the fruit processor to make a YUMMY raw cranberry salad.

  13. If we get the sweetness by combining cranberries with whole fresh or dried fruits, would the sweet whole foods have a similar counter-productive pro-oxydant effect like that found in (HFCS) high-fructose corn syrup?

  14. Here in NE US and Canada, we have frozen whole cranberries generally available year-round thought in the off season you might need to hunt around for them.

  15. No worried about eating bitter whole cranberries. Find some excellent oranges. Peel and mix one orange in the food processor small cup / small blade until it’s juicy and put in bowl. Chop a handful or two of cranberries same way. Put in bowl. Dice some fresh mint leaves. Mix all together. Call me stupid but this tastes extremely refreshing and yummy to me.

  16. Raw cranberries are delicious in salad! Or you can cook them in crushed pineapple and the unsweetened juice from the can until they pop and color the pineapple pink. Remove from heat, add a few drops of almond extract and maybe some raw walnuts, and chill. Easy way to eat them unsweetened.

  17. I’m still working my way through T. Colin Campbell and Howard Jacobsen’s “Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition” and have questions regarding eating whole foods. Is it advisable to eat the peel of a banana, of an orange, of a lemon? What about the pits of fruits such as cherries and peaches? Would the answers be different if the peels and pits could be ground as, perhaps, with a high-powered mixer? (I haven’t tried this and wonder if such pits would break the mixer.)

  18. Hi, my friend had tongue cancer, and even though now I think he is cancer free, somewhat (maybe due to his treatment), now he has a diagnosis of paraneoplastic syndrome with brainstem encephalitis. I have searched on the website for the main words but do not find any information. Is this something that could be stopped, reversed, or cured with a healthy vegan diet?

    1. Hi Louise, paraneoplastic syndrome involves an immune response where inflammatory substances known as cytokines and certain hormones are produced by the body in an effort to destroy cancer cells. This can often occur before the cancer has formed into a tumor or mass that has been diagnosed. This inflammatory response causes several different signs and symptoms that can mimic other disease processes. It is known as a paraneoplastic syndrome because of it’s relationship to the tumor the person has either already developed or will ultimately develop.
      Given this mechanism of action and it’s involvement with the immune system It is certainly safe to say that a healthy vegan diet could not hurt in this setting. Healthy vegan diets have many immune boosting and anti-inflammatory properties and could help enhance immune function. I searched and wasn’t able to find any published studies relating to effects of any type of diet on paraneoplastic syndrome, but I would consider a healthy vegan diet a safe and possibly helpful recommendation.
      Here are a few general article about paraneoplastic syndrome and it’s mechanism of action.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraneoplastic_syndrome
      http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/280744-overview

  19. When I can’t find fresh or frozen cranberries, would I get any benefit from consuming a product like “Cranactin” that my local health food store carries?

    BTW, my primary health challenge is my prostate gland: I’m 71-years old & my PSA numbers have climbed from 4.4 in September, 2016, to 5.75 in January, 2017, and back down to 5.5 in mid-February.

    Thanks,
    Richard
    :)

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