The avocado-cancer link: Is this fruit cancer-protective?

By Liz Meszaros
Published March 12, 2020

Key Takeaways

Lately, everyone seems to have jumped on the avocado bandwagon, and for good reason. Researchers have shown that avocados are good for so many body systems—cardiovascular, ocular, bone, and gastrointestinal.

But the coup de grâce—only recently discovered—is that avocados may also protect against certain cancers and have the potential to inhibit cancer cell growth. All amazing accomplishments considering that this stone fruit—yes, fruit, not vegetable—only garnered national acceptance in the 1990s, after efforts to promote it in the annual Super Bowl finally paid off.

Nutrition profile

Avocados contain almost 20 vitamins and minerals and is chock full of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). One serving (50 g, or about one-third of an avocado) contains 80 calories, nearly 5 g of MUFAs, 1 g protein, about 4 g carbohydrates, less than 1 g sugar, and more than 3 g fiber, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database.

Avocados are a great source of riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, potassium, and magnesium. They also contain four vitamins (C, E, K, and B6), as well as lutein, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids. What’s more, they promote absorption of fat-soluble nutrients from other foods, including alpha- and beta-carotene and lutein.

Avocados are also rich in phytochemicals, which have been linked to reducing the risks of many chronic diseases. And last, but not least, they have antimicrobial activity, particularly against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

The list of the beneficial “side effects” of including avocados in your diet is long. Here are just a few of its research-backed benefits.

Cancer-protective benefits

Some studies have shown that a high-MUFA diet can protect against the risk of certain cancers, including prostate, colon, stomach, pancreatic, and cervical cancers.

And not only are avocados beneficial in preventing cancers, they may also have a role in cancer treatment one day. In fact, some researchers have shown that the phytochemicals in avocados may selectively inhibit cancer cell and pre-cancerous cell growth, as well as induce apoptosis in cancer cells. Phytochemicals also encourage lymphocyte proliferation to help kill tumor cells. Finally, avocados may even have chemotherapeutic effects, and offer protection against chemotherapeutic agents such as cyclophosphamide.

Cardio-protective benefits

Per ounce, avocados contain 25 mg of beta-sitosterol, a natural plant sterol that has been shown to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Avocados, as noted above, are also rich in MUFAs, which have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, increase HDL levels, and lower blood pressure. These all work to lower risks for coronary heart disease. In addition, eating avocados is associated with a lower risk for metabolic syndrome in adults, as well as increased insulin sensitivity, according to researchers of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Vision benefits

Ocular tissues contain high concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that can reduce the risks of age-related macular degeneration. Luckily, these strong antioxidants are also found in avocados and help protect against antioxidant damage, such as that sustained from exposure to ultraviolet light. One ounce of avocado contains 80 µg of lutein, more than any supplement can offer. MUFAs found in avocado are also good for eye health; they help the body absorb other water-soluble antioxidants like beta-carotene, which—coupled with lutein and zeaxanthin—may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration.  

Bone health benefits

One-half of an avocado contains about 25% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K, a vitamin essential for bone health. Although it’s sometimes eclipsed by calcium and vitamin D when it comes to good bone health, vitamin K works to increase calcium absorption and reduce calcium excretion. Avocados also contain saponin, an amphipathic glycoside shown to relieve the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.

GI benefits

Avocados are high in fiber: one-half of an avocado contains a surprising 6-7 g of fiber. This high fiber content can help you maintain a healthy digestive tract and even lower your risk of colon cancer. Fiber also affords your body natural detoxification by promoting regular bowel movements, and can benefit the immune system (and overall health) by promoting a healthy gut microbiome.

Avocados are delicious, versatile, and packed with healthy vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and fats. So, pass the guacamole! It’s good for you!

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