Purple Corn Beats Blueberries as Colon Cancer Preventive

Q I keep reading about anthocyanins and their chemopreventive potency, especially with regard to protecting against cancer. Are blueberries the best source for ensuring that one gets enough of this class of phytonutrient?

JOSHUA, Hartford, CT

A Anthocyanins are potent antioxidants and may be chemoprotective, but that depends to a large degree on their structure, which differs depending on the source. A recent study has found that some sources are substantially better than others when it comes to protecting against colon cancer.1 “The chemical structures of anthocyanins do have a significant impact on their biological activity, and data suggest that nonacylated monoglycosylated anthocyanins are more potent inhibitors of colon cancer cell growth proliferation,” wrote lead author Pu Jing from The Ohio State University, where the study was done.2

Jing et al. compared the chemoprotective properties of anthocyanin-rich extracts from purple corn, chokeberry, bilberry (European blueberry), purple carrot, grape, radish, and elderberry. They looked at the ability of these extracts to influence the growth of a line of colon cancer cells (called HT29), measuring growth inhibition based on the concentration of each extract necessary to inhibit the growth of the cancer cells by 50 per cent. The researchers found that anthocyanins from purple corn were the most potent. Chokeberry and bilberry were tied for second, followed by purple carrot and grape. Radish and elderberry were the least effective.

“Anthocyanins played a major role in [anthocyanin-rich extracts’s] chemoprotection and exerted an additive interaction with the other phenolics present,” stated the researchers.

But it was the structure that was most important and those anthocyanins in the nonacylated monoglycosylated form had a greater inhibitory effect on the colon cancer cell line. Anthocyanins in the pelargonidin, triglycoside, and/or acylation forms offered less of an inhibitory effect.

“These findings are in agreement with those of others, suggesting that anthocyanins are the primary anti-proliferative components present in anthocyanin-rich commodities and/or extracts,” wrote the researchers. “Thus, evidence is mounting that anthocyanins may play a major role in the chemoprotective action of anthocyanin-rich foods or commodities.”

Both women and men, in roughly equal numbers, are diagnosed with colorectal cancer every year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. It is the third most diagnosed cancer, with 150,000 new cases per year.


  1. Jing P, Bomser JA, Schwartz SJ, He J, Magnuson BA, Giusti MM. Structure-function relationships of anthocyanins from various anthocyanin-rich extracts on the inhibition of colon cancer cell growth. J Agric Food Chem 2008 Oct 22;56(20):9391-8.
  2. Daniells S. Anthocyanins and colon cancer: Structure is key, says study. September 19, 2008. http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/Anthocyanins-and-colon-cancer-Structure-is-key-says-study

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