The best way to fight cancer is to eat the foods that improve your odds of never getting cancer in the first place.
But even if you do get cancer, researchers are finding that, remarkably, many of the fruits and vegetables that help the body prevent cancer are also useful in fighting cancer once it starts.
In short, it’s never too late to beat cancer by eating right. And here’s one of the very best foods you can turn to. . .
Native American Grandmother’s
Blueberries are tiny, but they’re supersized when it comes to nutrients. On top of that, they taste good. There’s no sacrifice or self-denial involved in eating this “health food.”
Personally, I eat them four or five times a week. That’s probably extreme, but what can I say? I like them. The average American only eats 22 ounces of them a year. But that’s way up from 20 years ago.
This food is a powerful medicine
In some of the most current studies on the blueberry’s anti-cancer benefits, researchers have found that natural compounds in blueberries can go after cancer cells and keep them from “migrating” – spreading into the body’s lymph system and invading other organs.
Some of the research has focused on liver cancer, a nasty, often fatal disease that’s the second most common cause of cancer death in the world.1 When scientists in Asia took a close look at how the compounds in blueberries – including the natural pigments that make them blue – can interfere with the growth and spread of liver cancer cells, they produced promising results.2
ln their report on lab tests of blueberry juice, they point out that three major classes of blueberries’ natural chemicals can help the body resist cancer:3
- Anthocyanins: A main component of blueberries (providing its blue color) that may slow or prevent the development of breast cancer and could be used as therapy for breast tumors after they appear.4 (For a large, rich dose of anthocyanins, you might want to consider a supplement called TheraFlex.)
- Pterostilbene: An antioxidant that fights colon and breast cancer as well as other malignancies by hindering the growth of tumors, hampering the metastatic spread of cancer cells and increasing cancer cell death via apoptosis (programmed cellular self-destruction).5 Our sister company, Green Valley Natural Solutions, also produces a supplement called Genesis that contains a clinical dose of pterostilbene.
- Ellagic acid: A compound that protects DNA from being harmfully modified and helps cells fix DNA that has been damaged.6
The study on blueberry juice, which contains all three of these chemicals, showed it was effective at containing liver cancer and potentially preventing the disease from becoming life-threatening.
Reduces risk of skin cancer
An international group of researchers, including scientists at the University of Arizona, have similarly found that substances in blueberries can help fight skin cancer. And they note that these natural chemicals are especially important for combating melanoma, a dangerous type of cancer that starts in the skin cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color.
The Arizona U. researchers point out that developing this type of answer for melanoma “is crucial in order to successfully treat this aggressive cancer form.”
Their research focuses on the polyphenol called quercetin, a plant-based antioxidant that is also found in apples, onions, and other fruits and vegetables as well as in blueberries. Quercetin, they say, sets off what they call signaling cascades – chemical reactions in cells that impede the formation of skin cancer tumors.
In addition, quercetin selectively targets melanoma cells – while leaving normal cells unaffected – and makes them more vulnerable to apoptosis — while also blocking them from developing resistance to anti-cancer drug treatment.7
Among the polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables, quercetin has been found to possess the most potent antioxidative power for protecting both cell membranes and genetic material from cancer-promoting damage.8
Paradoxically, though, researchers have been intrigued to find that as quercetin levels increase in cells, the chemical can become a pro-oxidant, causing oxidative damage instead of preventing it. But that’s a good thing, too, because it doesn’t seem to harm normal cells. The research suggests high quercetin levels cause oxidative damage only to cancer cells, leading them to “commit suicide” by way of apoptosis.9
Quercetin’s pro-oxidant effects have been shown to zap colon and liver cancer cells as well as skin cancer.
Sunscreen in a berry
The blueberry’s preventive power against cancer also includes another substance that helps protect the skin. This chemical, called ursolic acid, helps skin cells fend off damage caused by sunburns and toxins in the environment.
According to researchers at Rutgers, ursolic acid produces important epigenetic effects – altering the behavior of a cell’s gene activity – in ways that help a cell keep its own antioxidant defenses strong and prevent cancerous changes. The studies at Rutgers also indicate that ursolic acid puts a damper on the release of enzymes in cells that would otherwise reduce their ability to quell free radicals.10
Plus, it’s pleasing to find that the epigenetic benefits of ursolic acid don’t stop at fighting cancer-causing free radical damage. Studies at the University of Iowa show that this nutrient in blueberries has anti-aging effects, putting a stop to genetic action that weakens and shrinks muscles as we get older.
In a lab test on animals, the Iowa scientists found that ursolic acid could stop age-related muscle atrophy and weakness within two months. It both increased the size of muscles by 10 percent and pumped up muscle strength by a whopping 30 percent.11
Ursolic acid does this by interfering with the action of a protein in muscle cells called transcription factor ATF4. As you get older, you’re more susceptible to having ATF4 restrict muscle growth and make you frail.
“Many of us know from our own experiences that muscle weakness and atrophy are big problems as we become older,” says Christopher Adams, M.D., a member of the Iowa team. “These problems have a major impact on our quality of life and health.” I want to add that this particular study, involving animals, needs confirmation by a human study.
Not to worry: there are so many proven benefits of blueberries, this muscle-building feature of ursolic acid is just icing on the cake. So if you’re trying to stay stronger and healthier as you age, blueberries should be in your diet.
I like to eat mine raw, but cooked seems to be okay for keeping the benefits intact – although researchers differ over this.
But whatever your blueberry preference, don’t buy a blueberry donut and think you’re consuming real berries. A recent lawsuit against donut makers pointed out that blueberry-flavored donuts sold at retail outlets only contain taste bud-deceiving, lab-concocted blueberry flavoring. There’s not a trace of real blueberry in them.