There’s news on the skin-cancer-prevention front . . . and it’s just in time for summer! Researchers have found that a small berry might be able to help prevent skin cancer related to sun exposure.
The black raspberry plant, known as “Rubus leucodermis” or “Rubus occidentalis,” is native to North America. It’s a thorny shrub that grows white flowers and dark purple berries. They are not the same as blackberries, but are softer and are different in taste. Black raspberries are known to contain “anthocyanins.” This substance is what gives the fruit its color. Anthocyanins are also recognized as antioxidants, which are believed to help protect the body from heart disease and cancer.
Scientists know that these compounds work to protect plants from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. In humans, it’s believed that too much exposure to these rays causes inflammation in the skin (a.k.a. sunburn). Normally, the body can get this skin damage under control without any side effects. However, in some people, the inflammation- response goes out of control, actually causing skin cancer.
That’s why researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center decided to test the effectiveness of black raspberries against “non-melanoma” skin cancer. “Melanoma” is the most serious type of skin cancer, as it can spread to other parts of the body. So the other, less-dangerous types are collectively known as “non-melanoma.” While we do say they’re less dangerous, non-melanoma cancers can be lethal to people who’ve had an organ transplant, who have been diagnosed with HIV, or who have a comprised immune system for any reason. Many seniors fall into this last category, so they need to be especially careful.
The university researchers decided to test their theory on mice. Three groups of mice were followed. One was a control group. The other two were exposed to UVB rays, a type of UV light emitted by the sun. Some of these mice were treated with a gel containing ground-up black raspberries. The others were just treated with a plain gel. The researchers checked all the mice for swelling/skin thickness, cell changes that indicate sunburn, and levels of an enzyme linked to the sunburn-related cells (“neutrophils”).
The mice treated with the plain gel were found to have greater swelling, and skin thickness that had increased by 67%. The researchers also found that these mice had levels of sunburn-related enzymes that had rocketed by 500%. So that means greater skin damage. In the mice treated with the black-raspberry gel, the researchers found that their skin had just thickened by 20% and their enzyme levels had only gone up 37%. That’s a significant difference between the two groups of rodents.
In another test, the researchers wanted to see if the berry gel could be effective against tumor growth spurred by long-term sun exposure. The mice were exposed to UVB rays three times a week for a period of 25 weeks. Again, one group was treated with plain gel and the other was treated with black-raspberry gel. When the mice began developing tumors, these were measured at various stages. The researchers discovered that the black-raspberry skin treatment greatly reduced the size and number of the tumors. However, it did not significantly slow down the progression rate of skin cancer.
Obviously, we need to see some studies done on the effect of black raspberry on sunburn and skin cancer in humans. But, someday, you could be buying not only sunblock and after-sun lotion, but also sun-damage-minimizing lotion. And it’d probably make you smell “berrylicious,” too!