Combining blueberry extract with radiation to treat cervical cancer significantly boosts the treatment's effectiveness, according to a study from the University of Missouri School of Medicine.
Radiation is one of the most common treatments for cervical cancer, and while it destroys cancerous cells, it also destroys nearby healthy ones.
"Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays and other particles such as gamma rays to destroy cancer cells," said the study's lead author Dr. Yujiang Fang.
"For some cancers, such as late-stage cervical cancer, radiation is a good treatment option. However, collateral damage to healthy cells always occurs. Based on previous research, we studied blueberry extract to verify whether it could be used as a radiosensitizer."
Radiosensitizers are non-toxic chemicals that make cancer cells more responsive to radiation therapy. In an earlier study, Fang and his research team showed that resveratrol, a compound in red grapes, could be used as a radiosensitizer for treating prostate cancer. Blueberries also contain resveratrol.
"In addition to resveratrol, blueberries also contain flavonoids," said Fang. "Flavonoids are chemicals that may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties."
The researchers used human cervical cancer cell lines to mimic clinical treatment. They were divided into four groups: a control group, a group that received only radiation, a group that received only blueberry extract, and a group that received both radiation and the extract.
"Our team used three different measures to confirm results of the study," Fang said. "Radiation decreased cancer cells by approximately 20 percent. Interestingly, the cell group that received only blueberry extract had a 25 percent decrease in cancer. However, the biggest decline in cancer cells occurred in the radiation and extract group, with a decrease of about 70 percent."
Fang explained that the mechanism that makes blueberry extract a radiosensitizer also reduces the growth of abnormal cells, which is what cancer is.
"Cancer cells avoid death by remodeling themselves," Fang said. "Along with reducing cell proliferation, the extract also 'tricks' cancer cells into dying. So, it inhibits the birth and promotes the death of cancer cells."
Fang said an animal study is the next step to confirm that his team can achieve the same results.
"Blueberries are very common and found all over the world," Fang said. "They are readily accessible and inexpensive. As a natural treatment option for boosting the effectiveness of existing therapies, I feel they would be enthusiastically accepted."
Fang's next step is an animal study to see if his results can be replicated.
Other rent studies have found that blueberries can also be a powerful weapon to help fight Alzheimer's. A study at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center gave older adults with mild cognitive impairment either freeze-dried blueberry powder equivalent to a cup of fresh berries, or a placebo powder. After 16 weeks, those taking the blueberry powder showed an improvement in cognitive abilities when compared to those who took the placebo.
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