Compounds in cranberries, called proanthocyanidins, have inhibited the growth of human lung, colon and leukaemia cancer cells, without affecting healthy cells, according to a recent study from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

In this study, the researchers isolated a proanthocyanidin-rich fraction of a whole cranberry extract and tested it on several tumour cells. The study showed a significant decrease in the spread of cancer cells as well as tumour growth. The lead researcher said that she believed eating cranberries or taking cranberry supplements could be helpful.

“There are so many compounds in cranberries capable of having some anticancer mechanism that when taken together there is potential for benefit,” she said.

At the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology, University of Western Ontario, previous studies found that cranberry presscake (the material remaining after squeezing juice from the berries), when fed to mice bearing human breast tumour cells, could decrease tumour growth. Therefore, further studies were undertaken to identify the components of cranberry that contributed to this anticancer activity.

Using the presscake, the researchers found the proanthocyanidin- and fibre-rich mixture from the whole berry inhibited the spread of eight human tumour cell lines. Other tumour lines originating from breast, skin, colon, lung and brain had moderate sensitivity to the mixture. The mixture was shown to help block cell cycle and induce cancer cell death.

Sources: University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Oct 21, 2005; J Nutr. 2004 Jun;134(6):1529-35