In 2017, a high school student won her regional science fair by proving that the extract of a long-used Native American plant, chokeberries, can target and kill cancer cells in-vitro. This discovery, or rather, re-discovery, could in the future be a huge breakthrough in cancer treatment.
Native American High School Student Discovers That Her Culture’s Traditional Chokeberry Pudding Can Fight Cancer
High school student, Destany “Sky” Pete, of the Shoshone and Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Idaho and Nevada, developed an interest in the medicinal properties of the chokecherry, which is still harvested and consumed in her community today. Back in 2017, she decided to make this the topic of her science fair project. This decision came following a conversation that she had with one of her tribe’s elders. They said that the reason their people were getting so sick so often was because they were not consuming the traditional foods so much anymore. The most important of these, they said, was the chokeberry pudding. This inspired her to study the chokeberry and see what it was all about. (1)
It’s In The Seeds
In order to study this, Pete would need some help. Pete’s high school science teacher, Dietlinde Dann, connected her with a biochemistry professor at Boise State University, Dr. Ken Cornell, who works with uterine sarcoma cancer cells. Together in the University’s lab, she tested four different specimens of chokecherries. She combined them with uterine sarcoma cancer cells, then allowed a 24-hour incubation period. The results spoke for themselves: The chokeberry pudding, which includes eating the fruit’s seeds, had cancer-inhibiting properties. The juice alone could not kill cancer cells. (2)
“The traditional (Shoshone and Paiute) method of preparing chokecherry pudding includes the seed of the chokecherry, crushed up,” said Pete. “Nowadays, some people just kind of juice the berry and take out the seed completely. But maybe the seed has medicine that can help us to stay well.”
This is an important first step, but it will be years before we know if these findings apply to humans. The study was conducted in vitro—meaning in test tubes—so its implications are very limited. However, this is an exciting look into the potential of a plant that is available abundantly across Canada and the United States.
What Are Chokeberries?
Chokeberries, also called arena berries, are small red berries native to North America. They have a tangy flavor and are often used in jams or pie filling because they have high pectin content which makes them good for making jellies. In Shoshone culture, they are traditionally consumed as a pudding.
What Are The Benefits of Chokeberries?
Chokeberry extracts have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant activity. They contain high amounts of phytochemicals, including anthocyanins and phenolic acids. Studies have shown chokeberry extracts can inhibit tumor cell growth, induce apoptosis (programmed cell death), and reduce damaging inflammation in the body. These antioxidant phytochemicals are preventative and restorative by nature, making chokeberries a health powerhouse. (3)
Chokeberries have been used traditionally to support cardiovascular health and protect against the oxidative stress that is linked to aging and disease. They are also used as a liver tonic, digestive aid, and supportive agent for the respiratory system. Chokeberries are a good source of vitamins A, C, and E. They also provide significant amounts of minerals including iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and zinc.
Specific Anti-Cancer Benefits
Pete’s study isn’t the only one that shows the potential anti-cancer effects of chokeberries. Several test tubes and animal studies found that the anthocyanins in chokeberries may stop the growth of colon cancer cells. Another found they have protective effects against breast cancer. (4, 5, 6)
While all of these studies are promising, the scientists who conducted them don’t want to disillusion the public. Much more research needs to be done to confirm these anti-cancer benefits, and even more research after that to determine if and how it could be used as a cancer treatment. While we may not be able to say definitively whether or not chokeberries do fight cancer, we can confirm that they are nutritional powerhouses that will have a positive effect on your health. Including them in your already healthy diet and lifestyle can only improve your chances at living a long and healthy life.
Keep Reading: 10 Warning Signs of Lung Cancer
- “Native American Student Proves Traditional Chokecherry Pudding Is Medicine.” ICT News. Sarah Sunshine Manning. June 12, 2017.
- “Cancer: The purple berry shown to slash cancer cell growth by 60 percent within 24 hours.” Express. Solen Le Net. August 17, 2022.
- “Anthocyanin-rich extract from Aronia meloncarpa E induces a cell cycle block in colon cancer but not normal colonic cells.” Pubmed. Minnie Malik, et al. 2003.
- “Anthocyanin-rich extracts inhibit multiple biomarkers of colon cancer in rats.” Pubmed. Geeta Lala, et al. 2006.
- “Effects of commercial anthocyanin-rich extracts on colonic cancer and nontumorigenic colonic cell growth.” Pubmed. Cuiwei Zhao, et al. October 2004.
- “An extract from berries of Aronia melanocarpa modulates the generation of superoxide anion radicals in blood platelets from breast cancer patients.” Pubmed. Magdalena Kedzierska, et al. 2009.