Cancer Study Follow-Up: Report Brings Key Nutritional Messages to Light
Food as Medicine & Colorful Diet at the Heart of New Study, Says Nutrition Expert Susan Davis
This week, Wild About Health shared a new study from researchers at the City of Hope in Los Angeles that showed the positive effect of blueberries on triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of breast cancer that typically responds poorly to treatment. (Read our post, Exciting Study Ties Blueberries to Breast Cancer Prevention, where you’ll also be able to view the video and hear from the researchers firsthand.) Today, we’re following up on this compelling study with Nutrition Advisor Susan Davis, MS, RD, who provides insight into its promising results and helps us parse its nutritional message.
The investigation into the health benefits of blueberries was familiar to researchers Shiuan Chen, Ph.D and Lynn Adams, Ph.D. A 2010 study into the cancer-fighting properties of the fruit prompted them to refer to blueberries as one of the most potent and popular disease fighters available. Previous research has focused on the powerful phytochemicals in blueberries that counter the damage of free radicals, and this latest study took the inquiry one step further. “Our results demonstrate that blueberry consumption can greatly reduce the growth and spread of an aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., director of the Division of Tumor Cell Biology at City of Hope and senior author on the paper that will appear in the October issue of The Journal of Nutrition.
Such promise for a particularly deadly form of a challenging disease generated excitement for those interested in the topic of breast cancer as well as those in the fields of health and nutrition. While the study’s focus was on blueberries – already known for their disease-fighting properties – the true message of the study, said Nutrition Advisor to the Wild Blueberry Association Susan Davis, MS, RD, is not necessarily to urge people to eat more blueberries, but to help advance a vital health message that still needs spreading.
Wild About Health was fortunate to have Davis weigh in on the study. Davis is a member of the Bar Harbor Group, a collective of U.S. and Canadian researchers who are active in the fields of neuroscience, aging, cardiovascular disease, cancer, eye health and other health-related areas who regularly share their research findings and explore opportunities in blueberry and berry nutritional health and research. The group met this past August to share new research into the connection between blueberries and Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes.
Davis said the City of Hope study was significant both in the dramatic performance of blueberries and because of their effect on many markers for breast cancer. Not only did tumor size decrease by 75%, but metastases, or the spread of cancer, was also decreased. In addition, mechanisms were identified to explain how blueberries could have these effects, an important step forward in understanding the connection between health and these superfood components.
The study’s applicability to all diets also reinforced an important message of food as medicine, Davis said. “The fact that the amount of fruit consumed is achievable in ordinary diets shows the power of foods in helping prevent disease,” she told Wild About Health. Researchers like Chen and Adams and those who are part of the Bar Harbor Group continue to make strides toward isolating components in food that could help prevent cancers and diseases of aging, providing more scientific evidence that we should view food as “treatment” for disease as well as use it defensively as a preventative for disease and the effects of aging.
According to Davis, studies like this one solidify this message for the public and help contribute to a cultural understanding that can save our lives and contribute to our longevity: that what we eat makes a significant difference in how we look, how we feel, and how healthy we are. She said that it’s a message that has not been fully adopted in this country. “Many other cultures look to foods and herbs to treat illnesses and honor their bodies,” she said. “In the U.S. we are slow to get the message.” While many of us are taking nutritional measures to preserve our health, others continue to miss the clear connection that exists between food and our wellness.
Davis said another important aspect of this study’s subsequent report and analysis is the message reiterated by its researchers concerning the effects of food synergy. Because fruits and vegetables contain very different compounds that complement each other, it’s important to understand that one will not provide all the health benefits we need. Instead, these components work together, in ways we don’t yet understand, to augment their singular effects. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, variety truly is the key to healthy eating, and that’s another message worth hearing again and again.
“Berries are powerful sources of protective compounds and the blues are one of the best. A good way to judge how healthy your diet is, is by color,” said Davis. “Get the colors on your plate at every meal, and make one of them blue.”
Have you made one of the colors on your plate blue today? Find out more about why you should get your daily dose of blue.