The search for a natural food that can block cancer development got a boost this year with research that shows cranberries may be one answer.

Laboratory studies showed that a compound found in cranberries – proanthocyanidin – inhibited growth of cancerous lung, colon and leukemia cells, without affecting healthy cells.  It could also stop the cancer from spreading.

Cranberries have long been considered a useful weapon in the fight against cancer, in part because of the antioxidant compounds, including quercetin and ursolic acid, that they contain.  Proathocyanidins – found also in grapeseed which has also been associated with cancer inhibition – were considered another possible inhibitor.

The new research documented the specific role of the proathocyanidins in cranberry extracts, which differ from those in grapeseed.  At a certain level of concentration (no less than 100ug/mL), the study showed significant inhibition of cancer cell proliferation that has not been demonstrated with other proathocyanidins.

The chief researcher, Catherine Neto of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, could not say whether (or how much) consumption of cranberries would produce an adequate concentration in the necessary tissue to prevent the generation of cancer cells.  Still, she believes eating cranberries or taking cranberry extract supplements could be beneficial.  “There are so many compounds in cranberries capable of having some anti-cancer mechanism that when taken together, there is potential for benefit.”

The study appeared in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (DOI 10.1002/jsfa.2347).