Cherries may soon become an important weapon in the ongoing quest to fight cancer. A review of research on the fruit's health benefits has found that fresh sweet cherries are loaded with a compound called cyanidin, part of a family of antioxidants called anthocyanins.
Together, these compounds help combat the cell-damaging effects of "free radicals", which may lead to the development of cancer and a host of age-related illnesses.
The research review was completed by researchers Cynthia Thomson at the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Chieri Kubota at the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona. Their review of the published literature from around the world provides the most thorough look yet at cherries' healthful characteristics and potential role in disease prevention.
A comparison of anthocyanin content provided in the report showed that one cup of cherries contains approximately 80.2 milligrams of anthocyanin.
Bing cherries, the most popular variety of fresh cherries, are especially high in anthocyanin. Even more significant is that cyanidin accounts for 93 per cent of sweet cherries' level of anthocyanin, or 75.2 mg per cup.
Other fruits possess far less cyanidin: 6.6 mg for tart cherries, 17 mg blueberries, 35.8 mg raspberries and 1.5 mg red grapes.
The high level of cyanidin is noteworthy, according to the researchers: "Sweet cherries are a good source of cyanidin, and the presence of cyanidin appears to have particular importance in terms of reducing cancer risk."
Citing a wealth of studies, they report that exposure to cyanidin can lead to a significant increase in "free radical scavenging."
There is also compelling evidence from basic science that cyanidin also may promote cellular differentiation, which reduces the risk for healthy cells to transform to cancer.
The researchers caution that while more study is needed, studies currently suggest that sweet cherries should be considered another important food to include in a healthy diet for cancer prevention. Other cancer-fighting nutrients in sweet cherries include fibre, vitamin C and carotenoids.
Their review of the science of the health-promoting effects of cherries reflects a growing body of research that supports the importance of fruits and vegetables to good health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people need to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat every day and the current food guide pyramid recommends up to nine servings daily.