The Truth About Ellagic Acid and Red Raspberries
The Ellagic Acid Buzz
If you pay any attention at all to the alternative-health information-grapevine, you've heard the buzz on ellagic acid and red raspberries. If you believe the rumors flying around the Internet, the cure for cancer is at hand!! This is the greatest discovery since sliced bread!! Well, like most rumors, there's some truth to it…and a whole lot of nonsense.
Two years ago, I wrote in the Barron Report on antioxidants about the value of including berries in your diet because of the benefits of the ellagic acid derived from them. This recommendation was based on work being done at the Hollings Cancer Institute by Dr. Daniel Nixon, who had been studying the benefits of red raspberries for some 6 years at that time. Since then, two things have changed dramatically.
- First, the study results are now becoming, for lack of a better word, remarkable.
- Second, it is now possible to get high quantities of ellagitannins without having to consume a cup of berries every day.
Dr. Nixon's published results show:
- Consuming one cup of red raspberries per day (40 mg of ellagitannins) prevents the development of cancer cells. At low concentrations, it slows the growth of cancer cells; at higher concentrations, it tells cancer cells to kill themselves. For example, cells infected with the human papilloma virus (which is linked to cervical cancer), when exposed to ellagic acid experienced apoptosis, or normal cell death.
- Red raspberry ellagitannins slow the growth of abnormal colon cells in humans.
- Tests reveal similar results for breast, pancreas, esophageal, skin, and prostate cancer cells. The ellagitannins also produce a breakdown in human leukemia cells.
- Another way that ellagitannins protect your body is through G-Arrest. G-Arrest means that the ellagitannins stop cells from mutating in the first place. If cells don't mutate, then we don't get cancer. This is very important when you understand that that every single day of your life you produce anywhere from a few hundred to as many as 10,000 cancerous cells in your body as part of your normal metabolism. In tests conducted by the Hollings Cancer Institute with Ellagic Acid, G-Arrest began in 72 hours in both breast and cervical cancer.
- Red raspberry ellagitannins prevent destruction of the P53 gene by cancer cells. P53 prevents mutagenic activity in cervical cells.
- Red raspberry ellagitannins protect human cells against cancer-causing agents in tobacco smoke, food additives, and petroleum-based substances. Ellagitannins act as scavengers to “bind” cancer-causing chemicals, making them inactive. The ellagitannins inhibit the ability of other chemicals to cause mutations in bacteria. Red Raspberry ellagitannins also protect DNA by blocking carcinogens from binding to the DNA.
- European medical studies also demonstrate that red raspberry ellagitannins lower the incidence of birth defects, promote wound healing, reduce heart disease, and may reduce or reverse chemically induced liver fibrosis. In addition, the ellagic acid produced from the ellagitannins has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties
Note: It is important to understand that most of the above studies have been conducted in two phases. First, in test tubes on isolated cells using ellagic acid. Later (and ongoing, even now) in live human beings using the full ellagitannin complex as found in red raspberry puree. It is, of course, the human studies that are of interest to us.
The problem with cancer cells is that when they divide, the original cell does not die.
The normal process of cell division, on the other hand, results in the replicating cell being “carried off” as trash just as if a bacterium had died. The body signals the dismantling of the old cell and the new cell takes over its processes. This is called apoptosis, or natural cell death.
Cancer cells, as mentioned above, are different. Cancer cells do not die; they rapidly multiply by cell division (mitosis), making 2 cancer cells, then 4, 8, 16, 32 and so on. What Dr. Nixon found is that in both lab and clinical studies, red raspberry ellagitannins caused cancer cells to go through a nontoxic, normal apoptosis process without damaging the healthy cells. This is a remarkable improvement over standard treatments.
Chemotherapy and radiation do the same thing – kill cancer cells, that is. But they have a devastating side effect that does not happen with the ellagitannins: they kill healthy cells too -- destroying the immune system in the process. More people probably die from the side effects of chemo and radiation than actually die from the original cancer.
This is why Dr. Nixon's studies on ellagitannins are so exciting. Potentially, we're talking about an all-natural cancer treatment/preventative that provides ALL of the benefits of chemo and radiation and NONE OF THE SIDEFFECTS. An all-natural supplement, if you will, that can literally be taken every single day to prevent most cancers from ever even forming in your body.
Enough of the Nonsense
Ellagic acid supplements are now appearing everywhere, and most of them are pure nonsense. As for those products that truly contain pure ellagic acid, you don't want them.
- First of all, ellagic acid doesn't work as well as the complete ellagitannin complex. Although ellagic acid alone has been shown to inhibit carcinogenesis in vitro (in a test tube with isolated cancer cells), several studies have reported that the other phenolic compounds in the berries also contribute to the observed inhibitory effect. Those compounds are only present in a complete ellagitannin complex, not in a synthetic ellagic acid isolate. In other words, an ellagitannin complex works better than pure ellagic acid. Or as stated on the USDA Agricultural Research Services website:
- "In pure form, ellagic acid is highly insoluble and biologically unavailable...ellagic acid, as it is biosynthesized in plants, occurs in combination with glucose as ellagitannins. These compounds are quite water soluble and biologically available. This means that relatively small amounts of ellagitannins may be more effective in the human diet than large doses of ellagic acid,"
- Or to quote from Dr. Nixon himself, "What is interesting to note is the superior efficacy of eating red raspberries as opposed to taking the individual phytochemicals in the form of dietary supplements. Though we do not yet fully comprehend why this is so, it is clear the nutraceutical whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
- Second, synthetic ellagic acid is too harsh for the human body to accept, and has some potentially serious side effects – not the least of which is its tendency to raise blood pressure.
- And third. Dr. Nixon's human studies are being done with the complete complex, not with isolated ellagic acid. If you want the same results, you need to use the same source. (Yes, the in vitro, or test tube studies on individual cells, were done with ellagic acid because individual cells have no way to break down ellagitannins into ellagic acid; but all in vivo, or human studies, have been done with red raspberry puree – and it is, after all, results with human beings that we're concerned with here.)
And as for those companies selling some form of berry-based ellagitannin complex and either calling it ellagic acid or claiming that it contains ellagic acid…don't be fooled. It isn't ellagic acid, and it doesn't contain any (unless synthetic ellagic acid has been added to the formula). The fact of the matter is that ellagic acid itself is not naturally present in plants.
Instead, polymers of gallic acid and hexahydroxydipenoyl (HHDP) are linked to glucose centers to form the class of compounds known as ellagitannins. Ellagic acid is formed when the HHDP group is cleaved from the tannin molecule and spontaneously rearranges – as happens in the digestive tract.
The bottom line is that it is the ellagitannins that are present in various fruits – not the ellagic acid. Again, to quote from the Washington State Red Raspberry Commission: “ Some articles in which ellagitannins are quantified refer to ellagic acid because quantitation of ellagitannins is done by breaking them down into ellagic acid subunits and quantifying the subunits.” Understand, that when researchers refer to the ellagic acid content of foods, they are referring to the amount of ellagic acid that can be derived from a food-based supplement. That's entirely different than saying the supplement contains ellagic acid.
Why does this matter?
Well, for three reasons:
- If the company selling the supplement truly doesn't know what's in the product they're selling, why would you want to buy from that company in the first place?
- If they do know, and they're willing to be “inaccurate” for “marketing purposes,” doesn't that call into question everything else they say?
- And finally, if you understand that it's really the ellagitannins that you're after (and not the ellagic acid), then you realize that the source of your ellagitannins is vital – since the source will determine the exact mix of ellagitannins and how effective that mix is.
The bottom line is you don't want to buy your supplements from a company that doesn't have a clue about what they're selling. Look for a company that uses accurate literature and labeling.
The Cure for Cancer?
Are ellagitannins the cure for cancer? No, of course not. But they are an important piece of the puzzle. You still want to do all parts of the Baseline of Health®.
- You want to build your immune system. Your immune system is your body's prime defense against cancer.
- You want to detox your liver and clean your blood – make them hostile to the presence of cancer.
- You still want to alkalinize your body. Cancer thrives in an acid environment.
- You still want to maximize nutrition levels
- You still want to include a full spectrum antioxidant that contains known anti-carcinogens such as green tea, alpha lipoic acid, selenium, lycopene, and curcumin. They all work synergistically with red raspberry ellagitannins – making them that much more effective.
As we've already discussed, the source of ellagitannins that you use matters.
- First of all, the availability to the body of ellagic acid from dietary sources has only been confirmed with red raspberries. Other foods such as strawberries and walnuts either contain far lesser amounts of ellagic acid producing ellagitannins, and/or their bioavailability has not been confirmed. One interesting source, however, is pomegranate. Although not proven in clinical studies, the anecdotal evidence is extremely strong – and the concentration of ellagitannins is much higher in pomegranate than raspberries.
The other key issue is that each source of ellagitannins has its own individual mix of ellagitannins. A useful way to think about this is that the active ingredients in both green tea and grape seeds are a group of bio-chemicals called polyphenols (the same group of bio-chemicals that includes ellagic acid) – but because the mix of polyphenols is different in green tea and grape seeds, they each have an entirely different range of effects on the human body. Of the different sources of ellagitannins, the only “mix” that has been verified is the mix in red raspberries. In other words, for now, you want a red raspberry source. (Note: at some point, future studies will likely verify the efficacy of other sources such as pomegranate – but those studies do not exist at this point in time. Then again, the anecdotal evidence is building strongly.) For the moment then, the Meeker red raspberry is the most proven source of ellagic acid producing ellagitannins, with pomegranates probably a good alternative.
- The bottom line, though, is that if you want to duplicate Dr. Nixon's protocol, then you need to use the ellagitannin source that he uses -- red raspberries.
Which brings us to the question of how to supplement with red raspberries. To be sure, Dr. Nixon used 1 cup of red raspberry puree per day in his studies. However, that is not practical for most people. Fortunately, it turns out the raspberry seeds have a much higher concentration of ellagitannins than the puree.
As you can see in the above table from the Washington State Red Raspberry Commission, over 70% of the ellagitannins present in the Meeker red raspberry are found in the seeds.
One gram of red raspberry seed powder, taken twice a day, provides 40 mg of ellagitannins – equivalent to the amount of ellagitannins found in one cup of fresh red raspberries.