Anti-Cancer Recipes: Lemon, Lime, Limonene



D-limonene, to be precise. Put it in your anti-cancer vocabulary.  It’s a member of a very fragrant class of molecules that abound in citrus–terpenoids or terpenes. Andthey’ve been shown to inhibit cancer cell progression and induce cell death. 


Think lemons, limes, oranges—especially the peel.  In fact, the highest content of limonene is found in the white spongy inner parts. Steep them in water, sip as tea,  munch on the softened rinds (but not too much or it will do a number on your teeth.)

“This is so refreshing,” says food blogger Holly Botner about the citrus water pictured here–lemon juice plus rinds of lemons, limes and oranges soaked in cold water for a few minutes.  

And it’s not just the limonene at work here. Another terpene called perillyl alcohol,derived from citrus peel (and from lavender and mint and lemongrass and more), has also demonstrated anti-cancer properties in some studies.

The research on these aromatic molecules has been done in several types of cancer cells –including liver, gastriccolon and lymphoma. Structurally some terpenes are similar to human hormones, and some research has shown them effective against breast and prostate cancer cells as well. 

How do they work? The mechanisms are many, including stimulating production of enzymes that help the liver detox carcinogens and causing cancer cells todifferentiate into a more benign version.

So far, most of the work has been done in the petri dish and lab animals, but promising results have some scientists calling for research and use in humans.    “The efficacy of these terpenoids against breast or prostate cancer cells, as demonstrated in pre-clinical studies, supports clinical application of these naturally occurring terpenoids in treatment of hormone-related human cancers.”  

Naturally, not all the results have been positive and as with most anti-cancer foods, more studies are needed before science can declare them proven to help– or not, but with so much encouraging evidence, what’s the harm in swigging a bit of citrus water all day long? Just make sure the citrus is organic.  


Harriet Sugar Miller

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