Blueberries are often promoted as a ‘superfood,’ and despite the overused marketing claims of this word, there may just be some good science behind the health benefits of these powerhouse foods. One area of evolving research into blueberries is to do with their effects on inhibiting cancer growth.
Blueberries contain a wide range of natural chemicals called flavonoids. Flavonoids have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that are linked to suppressing cancer growth – at least in cells grown in a laboratory. To take the laboratory studies one step further, researchers wanted to see if a blueberry extract could be used make cancer cells more vulnerable to radiotherapy.
Radiation therapy is used in many types of cancer. A downside of radiotherapy is that healthy cells surrounding a tumour can succumb to ‘friendly fire’ and be damaged along with the cancer cell. If cancer cells could be made more sensitive to radiotherapy, then a lower dose of treatment could be used.
Cervical cancer is one type of cancer where radiotherapy is a common treatment, so researchers used cervical cancer cells as their test bed. They added a blueberry extract and the viability of the cancer cells measured with and without a dose of radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy on its own reduced the number of cancer cells by 20 per cent. Next, when the blueberry extract was added, but no radiotherapy was given, there was a fall of 25 per cent.
It was only when the blueberry extract and radiation therapy were combined together that the really impressive results were seen. The number of cervical cancer cells fell by 70 per cent.
The conclusion is a blueberry extract not only helps to reduce cancer growth, but also makes cancer cells much more susceptible to radiation treatment.
Caution is always needed with translating laboratory cell culture studies into humans. But the results of this study paint a positive picture of pressing forward with clinical trials to see how a blueberry extract may help women with cervical cancer who are undergoing radiotherapy.