(NaturalHealth365) Cranberries are unusually rich in the antioxidant compounds, proanthocyanins – that are well known for their ability to prevent urinary tract infections. Recently, scientists discovered that this same compound, and other bioactive nutrients in cranberries, can help to block cancer cells from growing out of control.
In the last 5 years, we have seen many studies on the anti-cancer activity of cranberries due to its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. The cancer-preventive benefits of cranberries are now known to extend to most types of cancers including breast, colon, lung and prostate.
Five ways cranberries defeat cancer cells
Scientists clearly identified five interesting pathways of the phytochemicals in cranberries that block the activity of cancer cells. Three of them inhibit cancer-causing agents and two stimulate the destruction of tumor cells.
First, let’s look at the inhibiting pathway; cranberries suppress a type of protein enzymes called MMPs (matrix metalloproteinases) that are pro-inflammatory in nature. These type of enzymes are responsible for changes in the tissue. Excess amount of MMPs, in the body, can lead to cancerous growth.
Another mechanisms is that they block the enzyme ODC (Ornithine decarboxylase), high levels of which lead to tumor growth, especially causing breast cancer. The third mechanisms is the inhibition of the phase I detoxification enzyme CYP2C9s; high enzyme activity of this is linked to cancers of breast and colorectal.
The second important mechanism by which cranberry nutrients inhibit cancer growth is via the destruction pathway. In this route, cranberries promote the activity of certain enzymes that kill cancer cells.
One mechanism involves kick starting the activity of a phase 2 detoxification enzyme called quinone reductase (QR). Elevated levels of QR enzymes offer protection against chemical-induced carcinogenesis. The second mechanism involves stimulation of apoptosis – which induces programmed death of tumor cells. Cranberries have shown to be very effective in apoptosis process.
What is so special inside cranberries?
Cranberries naturally contain many phytonutrients, the most important ones are phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins, flavonoids, triterpenoids. Besides these nutrients they are super rich in vitamin C and high in fiber.
Bear in mind, one ounce of raw cranberries gives 13 calories, 1 g of sugar a glycemic load of 0; while the same amount of dried, sweetened cranberries provide 86 calories, 18 g of sugar and has a glycemic load of 12. Be aware of the portion size of dried cranberries – if you are a diabetic or on a low-carbohydrate diet.
Little known truths about cranberries
If you decide to make cranberries a part of your healthy food plan – here is what you should know. A substantial number of studies confirm that the beneficial effects come from consuming whole cranberries, in their original form, but not from purified extracts of the berries. Bottom line, eat whole cranberries instead of man-made dietary (cranberry) supplements.
According to researchers, the nutrients in whole cranberries work similar to a synchronized orchestra to exert the antioxidant, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits. On the other hand, supplements are a mere combination of individual components of the berry and lack the synchronized beneficial effects.
Another important thing to note about cranberries is that they are among the few foods that contain oxalates. An analysis shows that although they are a low-oxalate food, they do form calcium oxalates in urine – which may increase the risk of kidney stones. Individuals at risk of developing calcium-oxalates, in urine, should avoid consuming cranberries and take the advice of their healthcare provider before including cranberries as part of any diet program.
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1 Côté J, Caillet S, Doyon G et al. Bioactive compounds in cranberries and their biological properties. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Aug;50(7):666-79. 2010.
2. Ferguson PJ, Kurowska E, Freeman DJ, Chambers AF, Koropatnick DJ. A flavonoid fraction from cranberry extract inhibits proliferation of human tumor cell lines. J Nutr. 2004 Jun;134(6):1529-35. 2004. PMID:15173424.
3. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 26, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2269.
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