Blueberries could help prevent one of the most common cancers, a study has found. The berries – already hailed as an anti-ageing ‘superfood’ – contain a compound called pterostilbene which could fight colon cancer.
It is hoped they could be developed into a preventative pill with fewer side effects than commercial preparations.
A U.S. study is the first to show the cancer-fighting potential of pterostilbene – one of the antioxidants in blueberries.
It is found in the pigment that gives blueberries their colour. The darker the berry, the higher the concentration of antioxidants.
The findings of the study will be released today at the American Chemical Society meeting in Washington by scientists at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dr Bandaru Reddy, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers, said the blueberry compound will not cure colon cancer but could help prevent the disease.
He added: “This study underscores the need to include more berries in the diet, especially blueberries.”
In a pilot study, 18 rats were given a cancer-causing compound called azoxymethane. Nine were placed on a balanced daily diet while the others were given the same diet supplemented with pterostilbene.
After eight weeks, the rats fed pterostilbene had 57 per cent fewer pre-cancerous lesions in their colons compared with the control group.
The compound also appeared to reduce the growth rate of the cancerous cells and inhibited certain genes involved in inflammation. Both of these are implicated in the development of the disease, said Dr Reddy.
Rising levels of colon cancer – the second most fatal cancer in Britain – have been linked with high-fat diets in Western countries.
Bowel cancer affects around 34,000 Britons each year and sufferers include Sharon Osbourne, wife of rock star Ozzy.
Blueberries have also been found to improve short-term memory loss and enhance balance and co-ordination.
Professor Annie Anderson, a nutrition adviser to Bowel Cancer UK, said: “This study adds to the growing evidence on how dietary factors can help prevent the development of colorectal cancer.
“This research reinforces the opportunities to reduce colorectal cancer risk by moving towards a plant-based diet, rich in wholegrains, fruits and vegetables.”