Blueberries are well known for their antioxidants and taste but new research reveals that they might also help in the battle against breast cancer.
Research by Massey University PhD graduate Dr Janyawat Vuthijumnonk has found that animals that consumed blueberries as part of their diet had a 50 per cent lower rate of mammary tumours.
While the research has only been done on animals at this stage, it may indicate that the consumption of blueberries could lead to a better chance of healthier breast tissue in humans.
Vuthijumnonk said some of the properties of blueberries reduced the number of free radicals in the the body, caused a decrease in new blood vessel formation and increased beneficial bacteria. "[Which are] all elements which help in the fight against breast cancer," she said.
In her research, Vuthijumnonk said the animals were given blueberries in liquid or pomace (pulped) form.
"Interestingly, tumours found in animals that received [blueberry fibre in pomace form] were smaller and less aggressive than in animals without blueberry intervention or in animals that received blueberry juice."
Estrogen, a hormone that plays a role in breast cancer promotion, was lower in those that consumed the pomace diet.
That fact meant that both fibre and the chemicals in blueberries played an important role in fighting the disease, she said.
Environmental stresses and the manner in which humans and animals react to them vary, so blueberries' efficacy was not certain. Vuthijumnonk said for that reason she could not say blueberries would definitely prevent breast cancer in individuals, but her research indicated increased consumption on a wider scale could benefit the population.
The 35-year-old, who hails from Thailand, said she would like to do further studies on the combined effect of blueberry consumption and traditional medicine.
She said she also suggested the fruit should be investigated as a post-surgery supplement for breast cancer patients.
Vuthijumnonk graduated during Wednesday's ceremony in Palmerston North.
She has returned to Thailand, where she will work as a lecturer at Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna, in Chiang Mai.