Antioxidant power: Blueberry extract found to improve health outcomes for women receiving radiation for cervical cancer, reducing the damaging effects of the therapy

The extract of blueberry, which is a known superfood, can be beneficial to cervical cancer patients that undergo radiation therapy, according to a study. In the United States, there are about 12,000 women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Furthermore, this type of cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women with approximately 530,000 new cases in 2012 worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). One of the most common treatments for the cancer is radiation therapy, which eliminates not only cancer cells, but also the healthy ones.

Based on previous research, a team of researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine carried out a study on in vitro human cancer cells to verify if blueberry extract combined with the therapy can increase the efficiency of the radiation and if it could be used as a radiosensitizer. Radiosensitizers are non-toxic substances that make cancer cells more reactive to radiation therapy.

“Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays and other particles such as gamma rays to destroy cancer cells,” said Yujiang Fang, lead author of the study and a visiting professor at the MU School of Medicine. “For some cancers, such as late-stage cervical cancer, radiation is a good treatment option. However, collateral damage to healthy damage to healthy cells always occurs.”

Fang and his research team revealed in their previous study that resveratrol, a compound found in red grapes and blueberry, could be used as a radiosensitizer for treating prostate cancer. Blueberries also contain flavonoids, which are chemicals that contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.

For the current study, the researchers used human cervical cancer cells to imitate clinical treatment. They divided the cell lines into four groups which include a control group, a group that only received radiation, a group that only received blueberry extract, and a group that received both radiation and blueberry extract. Using three measures to verify the findings of the study, they found that blueberry extract alone reduced cancer cells by 25 percent compared to the 20 percent reduction that radiation therapy caused. Meanwhile, the greatest reduction of cancer cells was observed in the group that received both the therapy and the extract, with a decline of around 70 percent.

Fang explained that the blueberry extract can also decreases the abnormal explosion of cell growth which is what cancer is. He added that cancer cells escape death by remodeling themselves. The blueberry extract reduces cell growth and tricks them into dying. Fang and his team plan to conduct an animal study to confirm their findings.

Since blueberries are easily found worldwide and are not costly, it can be accepted as a natural treatment option for enhancing the efficiency of existing therapies. (Related: Wild Blueberry Compounds May Work Against All Stages of Cancer (press release).)

The findings of the study were published in the journal Pathology & Oncology Research.

Fast facts on blueberries

Blueberries are rich in vitamins C and K, manganese, and a good source of dietary fiber. In addition, it contains many phytochemicals, such as anthocyanins, catechins, quercetin, kaempferol, ellagitannins and ellagic acid, pterostilbene, and resveratrol. Aside from its cancer treatment benefits, it also provides other health benefits. These include keeping the bones healthy, preventing skin damage, lowering blood pressure, managing diabetes, preventing cardiovascular diseases, enhancing mental health, and supporting digestive health as well as aiding in weight loss.

Learn more about the health benefits that blueberries provide at

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