Killing Cancer with Key Limes

Killing Cancer with Key Limes - A group of green fruit - Key lime

The Key lime is usually celebrated in pie form in the Florida Keys, and though many Americans can justify 440 calories, 22 grams of fat and 42 grams of sugar to get 14% of their recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, you would be hard pressed to find a doctor who encourages the tart and sweet treat for health purposes. But take away the sugars, fats and starches, and our glorious little Key lime fruit may be the key to stopping certain types of cancer dead in their tracks.

Key limes (citrus aurantifolia) are sometimes called “vitamin-sea” in a nod to the sailors who carried limes on their voyages in an effort to prevent scurvy. Scurvy was often fatal, but the link between vitamin C deficiencies and scurvy eluded seamen for centuries. Even as citrus became an accepted scurvy prevention, people were not certain why it worked, but they knew it did. By the late 1800s, sponge fishermen in the Florida Keys knew the importance of citrus and dairy for good health. In fact, their combination of the two ingredients is believed to have created one of the earliest versions of Key lime pie. It is a safe bet that the spongers had no idea they were fighting cancer at the same time. 

According to a 2016 paper, “Anticancer Activity of Key Lime,” published in the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine, the Key lime holds great potential for treatment of breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer and lymphoma. Other studies suggest it may fight lung and liver cancer too. The cancer-fighting properties come from phytochemical substances in the limes, including alkaloids, cartenoids, coumarins, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and triterpenoids. The report cites 62 volatile compounds and is fairly thorough in detailing the cancer strains tested, exposure rates, volatile compound percentages and effectiveness of treatment. The full report can be read at (search for the article title). 

It is important to understand that the tests proving the Key lime’s ability to cure cancer took place in a petri dish and not in humans, so don’t forego your chemo treatments in favor of a Key lime mojito drip. Instead, consider that Citrus aurantifolia comes with many health benefits, so keep a bag of Key limes around your house, and make an effort to introduce them to your diet several times a day. Put a little Key lime juice in every glass of water you drink, squeeze fresh lime on a sliced avocado, salads and fish, keep a zester handy and try Key lime zest as a salt replacement, and include a little Key lime juice in your 5 o’clock somewhere beverage of choice. I guarantee it will add a burst of Florida Keys flavor to your life no matter where you are, and it just might give any developing cancer cells an eviction notice. Love & Limes!

David Sloan
David Sloan researches intriguing stories from Key West's past to share island history people might not hear on the Conch Train.