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Berries and Ellagic Acid Might Help Suppress Breast Cancer

Posted Jun 16 2010 9:43am
Berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc) are rich in a variety of antioxidant phytochemicals.  It is these antioxidants phytochemicals that have been linked to some of the health benefits attributed to consuming berries.  One of the most abundant antioxidant phytochemicals found in many berries is ellagic acid, which has been reported in pre-clinical studies to have possible heart health and cancer fighting benefits.  However, the mechanisms by which berries and their phytochemicals might protect against breast cancer are not completely understood.

A new breast cancer research study published in Cancer Prevention Research examined the impact of dietary berries and ellagic acid on breast cancer burden in rats.  For this study, breast cancer was induced in rats by treating them with estrogen.  The rats were then fed one of four diets for up to 24 weeks: (1) a control diet, (2) a diet containing 2.5% black raspberry, (3) a diet containing 2.5% blueberry, and (4) a diet containing 400 ppm ellagic acid.  Development of breast cancer and changes in metabolic enzymes were examined after 6, 18, and 24 weeks.  The results of this analysis showed that
  • Diets that included berries or ellagic acid reduced breast cancer tumor incidence by 10-30%
  • Breast cancer tumor size was reduced by 41-67% in rats fed diets containing black raspberries, blueberries, and ellagic acid.
  • The number of breast cancer tumors was reduced by about 40-50% in rats fed diets enriched with berries and ellagic acid.
  • Induction of breast cancer with estrogen was associated with increases in a number of metabolic enzymes including cytochrome P450, 17beta-HSD, and catechol-o-methyltranferase.  Estrogen-induced increases in these enzymes were suppressed by berry-enriched diets with the greatest benefits observed in the early phases of breast cancer development.
These are interesting study results that confirm previous pre-clinical studies on the potential breast cancer fighting benefits of berry phytochemicals.  This current study also provides new information on the way berry phytochemicals might protect against breast cancer.  While this and previous studies have been mostly conducted in cell culture and animal models, these early studies show promise and give us an additional reason to include plenty of fruits (as well as vegetables) in our daily diet.  Ellagic acid and other berry phytochemicals have been reported to have cancer fighting benefits due to their anti-oxidant function and their ability to inhibit cell growth.  This new breast cancer study indicates that berry phytochemicals might also suppress enzymes involved in steroid formation and carcinogen metabolism, indicating that these phytochemicals likely work through multiple mechanisms. 

Despite the promise shown by these pre-clinical studies, human clinical trials still need to be done to determine if these early results translate to human subjects.  In the meantime, most berries are rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber, and other essential micronutrients, making them an excellent and delicious part of a healthy diet.

To learn about other breast cancer fighting foods, read my book Fight Now: Eat & Live Proactively Against Breast Cancer .
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