NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Blueberries are widely recommended as part of a heart-healthy diet, but did you know they can also play a role in fighting cervical cancer?
Arrica Wallace, 37, is cancer free 22 months after undergoing an experimental treatment for her cervical cancer.
“You don’t know. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” she said.
Her cancer had returned after radiation therapy failed. But there may be a way to make radiation more effective against cervical cancer.
In a new study, researchers at the University of Missouri found that blueberry extract greatly improved the effectiveness of radiation therapy on cancer cells.
“Drugs have so many side effects. We want to go back to see if there are natural chemicals that help us cure or prevent disease,” said Dr. Yujiang Fang.
That’s because a chemical in blueberries called resveratrol acts as a radio-sensitizer, meaning it makes cancer cells more sensitive to treatment. With less radiation, doctors can reduce the side effects to healthy cells.
Using cervical cancer cells in the lab, Dr. Fong found that radiation reduced the number of cells by 20 percent. Blueberry extract decreased the number by 25 percent. But combining radiation and blueberry extract reduced the number of cancer cells by 70 percent.
In a previous study, he showed that red grapes and red wine also function as radio-sensitizers, but blueberries have the added benefit of reducing the growth of new cancer cells at the same time.
Blueberries are healthy, cheap and widely available. Plus, they’ve been linked to a reduction in heart disease and Alzheimer’s risk. So there’s little downside to adding them to your diet.