Berries really are beautiful to behold and their rainbow of vibrant hues hints at an even greater attractiveness within. Berries of all kinds are literally packed with antioxidants. In fact berries as a group offer ten times more antioxidants per volume than other fruits and vegetables and fifty times more than that of animal-based foods. Biologically speaking, berries are small edible fruits from a single ovary with multiple seeds and without a large pit. This definition includes fruits like grapes, bananas and watermelons. In this article I am speaking about fruits typically thought of as berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, blackberries, mulberries, cherries, goji berries and acai berries. Surprisingly, some of these fruits, such as blackberries, raspberries, cherries and strawberries, do not fit the biolological definition of a berry. All that aside, berries make it easy to reap their benefits by offering an abundance of delicious flavours to choose from. The most healthful way to eat berries is fresh. Studies show that processing berries into jam destroys 97% of their antioxidants (9).
What exactly are antioxidants? (12)
Antioxidants are substances that neutralize free radicals (unstable oxygen molecules) throughout the body. Free radicals cause inflammation that damages cells and causes disease. There are many different kinds of antioxidants.
The following are some of the antioxidants found in berries.
Anthocyanins are blue, purple and red coloured pigments that are powerful phytochemicals, antioxidants associated with lower cancer risk, urinary tract health, better memory and healthy aging.
Catechins are flavanols that contribute to the antioxidant defense system and contribute to cancer prevention.
Quercetin is another flavanol antioxidant that protects against cancer and heart disease.
Gallic acid is a potent antioxidant shown in tests to inhibit cell growth in prostate cancer.
Rutin is a bioflavonoid antioxidant that promotes blood vessel health and reduces cancer spread.
Vitamin C is a very powerful antioxidant.
Ellagic Acid is a phenolic compound that is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and seems to play a role in cancer prevention and reversal.
Just how do berries compare with other foods in antioxidants? (5,6)
FOOD ANTIOXIDANT LEVEL IN MMOL/100 GM
Wild blueberries 9.24
Black currents 3.98
Beef steak 0.02
Pork steak 0.001
Eating berries offers a multitude of health benefits (10,15):
Berries prevent and fight cancer
Studies show that the anticancer effects of berries result from their abilities to reduce and repair cell damage caused by oxidative stress and inflammation. Berries also regulate enzymes and growth factors of cancers, decrease angiogenesis (new blood vessel growth needed to supply a cancer site with nutrients) and increase cancer cell death. Phytochemicals from berries appear to sensitize tumour cells to chemotherapy and provide protection from chemotherapy toxicity (10).
The more berries consumed, the more inhibition of cancer cell growth occurs. A recent study of raspberries resulted in reduction of cancer growth by 50%. Another study of strawberries blocked cancer growth by nearly 75% (13).
Berries boost natural killer cell activity leading to suppressed cancer growth and reduced cancer damage. Natural killer cells are part of our first response against cancer cells. Regular ingestion of blueberries doubles the resting number of killer cells in a body. (11)
A randomized clinical trial fed 1 or 2 ounces of freeze-dried strawberries to its subjects, patients with precancerous lesions of the esophagus, for 6 months. Disease progression was reversed in 80% of the participants eating the higher amount of strawberries. By the end of the study, 50% of subjects on the higher dose of strawberries were completely free of their lesions (19).
Black raspberry studies in a petri dish showed that they selectively slow the growth of malignant and pre-malignant cells but not normal cells. A subsequent human study had participants rub black raspberry gel on precancerous growths in their mouths for six weeks. Most of the patients’ lesions improved and some completely disappeared. (7,8)
Petri dish studies of cranberries show that small amounts of the whole fruit suppress the growth of colon, brain, liver, ovarian, breast and oral cancer cells. These studies also show that a total cranberry extract worked far better than isolated anthocyanin phytonutrients. (2,3,4)
Berries reduce the risk of heart disease through their effect of protecting blood vessel integrity and supporting nitric oxide production throughout the body and in the vessels around the heart (14).
Berries boost memory. The anthocyanins in blueberries have been shown to enhance communication between neurons in the brain and to improve memory. A study found that consuming wild blueberry juice over a period of twelve weeks improved both learning and recall (1).
Berries slow the onset of cognitive impairment by as much as 2 ½ years (16).
Berries, including cherries and goji berries, improve sleep because they are a good source of melatonin, a chemical made naturally in the body that promotes sleeping (17).
Tart cherries reduce inflammation throughout the body by reducing levels of C-reactive protein (18). Inflammation plays a large role in the development of many diseases and conditions including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.
Berries are true treasures in our diet. Try to eat some berries every day to enjoy all the health benefits they offer. With their delectable taste and natural juicy sweetness, this should be a joy.
1 Krikorian, R., Shidler, M.D., Nash, T.A. et al. Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14; 58(7):3996-4000.
2 Neto, C.C. Cranberries: Ripe for More Cancer Research?. J Sci Food Agric. 2011 Oct;91(13):2303-2307.
3 Seeram, N.P., Adams, L.S., Hardy, M.L., Heber, D. Total cranberry extract versus its phytochemical constituents: antiproliferative and synergistic effects against human tumor cell lines. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 May 5; 52(9):2512-2517.
4 Vinson, J.A., Bose, P., Proch, J., Al Kharrat, H., Samman, N. Cranberries and cranberry products: powerful in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo sources of antioxidants. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Jul 23; 56(14):5884-5891.
5 Carlsen, M.H., Halvorsen, B.L., Holte, K., Bøhn, S.K., Dragland, S., Sampson, L., et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. The Antioxidant Food Table. Nutr J. 2010 Jan 22; 9:3.
6 Sun, J., Chu, Y.F., Wu, X., Liu, R.H. Antioxidant and antiproliferative activities of common fruits. J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Dec 4; 50(25):7449-7454.
7 Han, C., Ding, H., Casto, B., Stoner, G.D., D’Ambrosio, S.M. Inhibition of the growth of premalignant and malignant human oral cell lines by extracts and components of black raspberries. Nutr Cancer. 2005; 51(2):207-17.
8 Mallery, S.R., Zwick, J.C., Pei, P., Tong, M. et al. Topical application of a bioadhesive black raspberry gel modulates gene expression and reduces cyclooxygenase 2 protein in human premalignant oral lesions. Cancer Res. 2008 Jun 15;68(12):4945-57.
9 Marques, K.K., Renfroe, M.H., Brevard, P.B., Lee, R.E., Gloeckner, J.W. Differences in antioxidant levels of fresh, frozen and freeze-dried strawberries and strawberry jam. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Dec; 61(8):759-769.
10 Seeram, N.P. Berry fruits for cancer prevention: current status and future prospects. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Feb 13; 56(3):630-635.
11 McAnulty, L.S., Nieman, D.C., Dumke, C.L., Shooter, L.A. et al. Effect of blueberry ingestion on natural killer cell counts, oxidative stress, and inflammation prior to and after 2.5 h of running
Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2011 Dec; 36(6):976-984.
13 McDougall, G.J., Ross, H.A., Ikeji,M.andStewart, D. Berry extracts exert different antiproliferative effects against cervical and colon cancer cells grown in vitro. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 May 14; 56(9):3016-23.
14 Jennings, A., Welch, A.A., Fairweather-Tait, S.J., Kay, C. et al. Higher anthocyanin intake is associated with lower arterial stiffness and central blood pressure in women. Am J Clin Nutr October 2012;96(2): 781-788.
15 Basu, A., Rhone, M., Lyons, T.J. Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health
Nutr Rev. 2010 Mar; 68(3): 168–177.
16 Devore, E.E., Kang, J.H., Breteler, M.M., Grodstein, F. Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Ann Neurol. 2012 Jul; 72(1):135-43.
17 Pigeon, W.R., Carr, M., Gorman, C., Perlis, M.L. Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. J Med Food. 2010 Jun; 13(3):579-83.
18 Bell, P.G., Walshe, I.H., Davison, G.W. et al. Montmorency cherries reduce the oxidative stress and inflammatory responses to repeated days high-intensity stochastic cycling. Nutrients. 2014 Feb 21; 6(2):829-43.
19 Chen, T., Yan, F., Quian, J. et al. Randomized phase II trial of lyophilized strawberries in patients with dysplastic precancerous lesions of the esophagus. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2012 Jan; 5(1):41-50.