I get a little cranky when I see headlines like this: “Eating Strawberries Daily Can Help Prevent and Even Cure Breast Cancer”. (1)
I know I shouldn’t. These types of headlines are meant to increase readership. Most (all?) editors wouldn’t even consider how highly charged these words could be for some of their readers.
Editors don’t think about those who’ve been through the ravages of REAL breast cancer versus in the laboratory EXPERIMENTAL breast cancer. Editors don’t realize how REAL breast cancer leaves women feeling vulnerable, open to trying most anything that proclaims to cure or prevent REAL breast cancer.
Not to mention, headlines like this one, linking strawberries and cancer cures, are confusing. Breast cancer patients are already unsure about what to eat or not. Woo-woo science headlines don’t help.
To lower my level of cranky, let’s look at this headline for what it is. Then let’s see if we can find something good in it, shall we?
How does the Strawberries and Breast Cancer Research Apply to Real Life?
Let’s critically analyze this study to see what’s behind the claim that there is a link between strawberries and cancer. We’ll look at the frequency, the form and variety of the strawberries studied, and who they studied (the subjects).
What food do you eat DAILY? 365 days per year.
I’d say, probably not many.
The ONLY thing I eat or drink every, single day is coffee. Even my own breast cancer recurrence risk reduction diet, the one I cling to like a life raft deviates (slightly) day to day.
There are standard foods I aim to eat daily, but sometimes my food choices depend on whether or not:
- I’m traveling
- I’ve made it to the grocery store
- My husband polished off the remaining (fill in food here) I’d planned to eat
So if the prevention and cure of cancer hinges on frequency of strawberry eating (“daily”, as the headline states), and you can’t or won’t maintain daily eating of strawberries?
You’re already doomed.
FORM and VARIETY
When did you last eat strawberry extract?
Not just any strawberry extract, mind you. Extract from the “Alba” strawberry.
That would be never.
In this study, researchers used polyphenol-rich strawberry extract (PRSE) obtained from the “Alba” variety of strawberries. (2)
The “Alba” strawberry is an early ripening Italian variety. An online search reveals this particular variety is extremely difficult to get your hands on here in the United States.
Believe me when I say, there is little I would like more than eating early ripening strawberries in Italy. I’d happily spend 365 days per year in that country, eating Alba strawberries any old way.
Juiced, dried, whole, macerated, or extracted? Bring. It. On.
What to do if I were looking for this strawberry cure or prevention RIGHT NOW, with no access to PRSE?
Vorrei, ma non posso. (3)
If the link between strawberries and the prevention and cure of breast cancer hinges on FORM (extract = “concentrated”) and VARIETY (“Alba”, courtesy of beautiful Italy)?
This research was performed using “cell lines” of both mouse and human origin.
Cell lines are cell cultures developed from a single cell.
In cancer research they’re used as fundamental models to study the biology of cancer and to test the beneficial effectiveness of anticancer agents. Cell lines aren’t perfect representations of actual human or cancer cells, and they have limitations. (4)
Also of note, this study looked at the effects of the PRSE on one particular cell line; the highly aggressive and invasive basal-like breast cancer cell line A17.
Because there are many different types of breast cancer, a beneficial treatment, even in food form, may not have the same outcome for everyone.
THE GOOD NEWS
All this is not to suggest we write strawberries off. Here’s where I showcase the GOOD from this article.
Berries of ALL types have a group of phytochemicals (anti-cancer compounds) called “polyphenols.” Two particularly active types of polyphenols that work together are anthocyanins, a class of flavonoids that gives berries their color, and ellagitannins, the source of ellagic acid, which may inhibit tumor cell production.
Berries also contain simple, yet powerful phenols such as quercetin and ferulic acid, and they’re loaded with vitamin C, manganese (a mineral) and fiber. (5, 6, 7)
Strawberries have high levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals, as well as a host of other bioactive compounds. (8)
As researchers in this study point out:
“The role of strawberry bioactive compounds on cancer prevention seems to involve different mechanisms, which have not yet been fully elucidated; therefore, further investigations are needed to clarify the roles of the different strawberries phytochemicals against cancer cells.
Several studies on extracts of strawberries, raspberries, and other fruits and berries did not find any correlations between the content of some phytochemicals and inhibition of cancer cell proliferation.
Different studies indeed have shown that the complex mixtures of phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetables are more effective than their individual constituents in preventing cancer, through both additive and synergistic effects.”
Here’s What You Can Do
- Eat and enjoy a variety of whole, fresh and/or frozen berries daily.
- Skip berry extract supplements, powders and drinks.
- One serving of berries equals 1/2 cup. Add them to smoothies and salads, oatmeal and other cereal, and enjoy them as snacks.
- Buy yourself a pint of fresh strawberries (peak season is April – June). If you’re so inclined, eat the entire thing in one sitting. For a mere 101 calories, you’ll gift your body with a host of antioxidants and phytochemicals, 6 grams of fiber, and delectable flavor. (9)
I wrote this post to encourage you to look beyond the sensationalized breast cancer nutrition and lifestyle headlines. Yes, they’re maddening. But if we take time to follow the trail, we can often learn something that benefits our healthy lifestyle efforts.
I’ll continue to call out and write about these types of articles. As a nutrition and lifestyle professional, I have an obligation to share the truth. Lift the hood and kick the tires of articles like this. Stick around – there’s more to come.
Now, in the comments below, will you do me a favor and answer two questions?
- What was most helpful about this post?
- What’s your FAVORITE berry?
Want to learn the basics of a breast cancer diet from me, a registered dietitian & breast cancer survivor?
Create your OWN customized nutrition plan! CLICK HERE.
You may also be interested in reading:
- Why your heart wants you to eat more plants
- Eating Strawberries Daily Can Help Prevent and Even Cure Breast Cancer
- Polyphenol-rich strawberry extract (PRSE) shows in vitro and in vivo biological activity against invasive breast cancer cells
- Translation of “vorrei ma non posso” in English
- The Clinical Relevance of Cancer Cell Lines
- Protective Role of Dietary Berries in Cancer
- Berries Seem to Burst with Cancer Protection
- Survey of antioxidant capacity and phenolic composition of blueberry, blackberry, and strawberry in Nanjing
- Foods That Fight Cancer?
- USDA Food Composition Database