Sweet, little gummy candies may be fun to roll around in your mouth and lick with your tongue but it may be hard to wrap your mind around the idea that they could also be a therapy for cancer.
Of course, I’m not talking about the sugary, artificially flavored toddler-bait at the supermarket checkout line.
Instead, I’m focusing on small, berry-based lozenges that send potent anti-cancer natural chemicals into the body – and into cancer cells – that may help shrink tumors and save lives.
And the most prominent side effect? They taste good!
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Going after cancer cells
The secret to the medicinal power of these candies is black raspberry. In studies and clinical trials, these berries – and gummies made from them – are displaying impressive ability to attack cancer cells, prompting a growing number of researchers to fill out their grant proposals to fund more research into black raspberries and their effects on human tumors.
Along with black raspberry candies that attack cancers in the mouth, raspberry drinks are being used as well as suppositories that show promise against the development of colon cancer:
All in all, the black raspberry is poised to become a therapeutic star.
Research into the anti-cancer benefits of black raspberry show that the many natural substances in the little fruit team together to fight tumors. Researchers at Ohio State University point out in a study on how black raspberry protects against cervical cancer that, although many of the compounds in the fruit “have been identified for their cancer chemopreventive potential, many other components remain unknown and/or untested for cancer chemopreventive activity.”1
That’s why these scientists say that in some of their tests they are using what they call a “crude” extract of black raspberry. They believe that the “complex mixture” of plant chemicals in black raspberries add up to more than the sum of the parts.
In plain English, you’re better off eating the whole fruit rather than a single compound extracted from it.
As they explain in their research paper on cervical cancer – the complex combination of chemicals contained in raspberries puts the nix on “multiple pathways” that cancer cells need to grow, thereby shutting down and killing the abnormal cells in a variety of ways.
In their lab tests on various types of cervical cancer cells, the Ohio scientists found that the raspberry extract slowed or stopped the growth of all the cancer cell lines they examined. One of the main ways it interfered with tumor formation was by inducing apoptosis – causing the cancer cells to self-destruct.
That doesn’t surprise me – many studies on various natural anti-cancer compounds have found that they frequently increase the rate of apoptosis among cancer cells.
The secret is in the color
Anthocyanins are one of the main types of compounds in black raspberries that have been shown to power its anti-cancer abilities. This class of phytochemicals consists of pigments that are responsible for the color in a variety of fruits and vegetables. Anthocyanins are the reason that experts in nutrition are always urging us to eat colorful fruits and vegetables – red, yellow, orange, purple and blue in the skin mean good things within.
However, the anthocyanin combination in black raspberry is unique to this plant and many of the anthocyanins don’t seem to be found in other fruits and vegetables.
One thing that has puzzled researchers has been the apparent lack of absorption of anthocyanins when foods travel through the digestive tract. Added to that, some scientists have found that many of these types of natural chemicals don’t survive the trip from the mouth to the intestines intact. They thought the digestive system converts the anthocyanins into other chemicals called metabolites.
Not to worry: they were mistaken. It turns out that it wasn’t true that anthocyanins aren’t absorbed – but researchers’ methods for finding them in the body were not initially accurate enough for the search.
In fact, scientists at the University of Louisville in Kentucky found, in lab tests on animals, that anthocyanins that are in food can eventually travel just about anywhere in the body – and they found them making it to the lungs where the anthocyanins they were inspecting (from blueberries, in this case) were working some of their anti-cancer magic.2
And further studies using more sophisticated chemical analyses have now shown that these phytonutrients travel to the brain3 and other organs.
As for the metabolites – researchers believe these help fight cancer, too. So nothing is lost when anthocyanins are broken down by the digestive system.
Gummy candies for adults
That’s another reason researchers at Ohio State and elsewhere are now sort of in the candy business as well as the medical research business. They have formulated and are producing (for their studies) black raspberry gummy candies to test as a delivery system for these natural chemicals to be applied against prostate cancer (among other uses).4
The development of the gummies at Ohio State has involved the food science division as well as its medical research staff. The results have been candies that the patients want to keep sucking on even after the clinical trials have ended.
As researcher Kristen Roberts points out, “In a study that is looking specifically at these food-based interventions, compliance is critical. The black raspberry gummy confections were packed with phytonutrients that the men truly enjoyed. Most of the participants inquired about ordering the gummies after they had completed their prescribed dose.”
Tell the difference
One thing I should caution you about, though, is that if you’re looking to eat fresh black raspberries, some people confuse these berries with blackberries. They’re not the same thing. And, although blackberries are certainly a healthy snack or dessert, they don’t have the same potent combo of anti-cancer natural substances that black raspberries contain.
These items are clearly labeled in the store. If the package says “blackberry” then it’s not a black raspberry, even if the two look alike to you. Unfortunately, most supermarket raspberries are red, not black. I almost never see black ones in stores.
They’re pretty easy to grow, however, if you have a sunny backyard. In fact, they’re kind of a weed, and you need to be careful they don’t take over your yard. Where I grew up, back before the Civil War, red raspberries were pretty rare and everyone had black raspberries. By the way, red raspberries are very nutritious. But from what we know at the moment, they don’t have the same, strong anticancer properties of black raspberries.
You should pick your berries as soon as they’re ripe. Otherwise, birds, who love this fruit, will swoop in and get them first.