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Sweet Pickings: Could Strawberries Help Fight Oral Cancer?

According to a new pilot study conducted at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, strawberries may help fight oral cancer in heavy smokers. April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, so these findings come at an appropriate time. Presently, the Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that almost 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year. With so many people being diagnosed annually, new preventative discoveries are especially crucial.

The Sweet Truth Behind Strawberries

Strawberries, like many other berries, are packed with nutritional compounds like Vitamin C, fiber, B vitamins, potassium, Vitamin K, iodine, folate, omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium. But they also contain chemicals like anthocyanins and flavonoids. These chemicals give berries their dark color. Also, berries contain ellagitannins, a source of the polyphenol ellagic acid.

The Ohio State University study researchers worked to analyze the "differences in salivary enzyme activities on the phytochemical components of strawberries between smokers and non-smokers."[1]

Researchers concocted a strawberry candy that contained two-and-a-half cups of whole strawberries and administered it to a group of smokers and non-smokers. Participants were instructed to consume the candy four times a day for one week and adhere to a diet that excluded other red and purple fruits and vegetables. After analyzing the results, researchers discovered substantial differences in the mouths of smokers who ingested the strawberry candy. They noted changes in oral bacteria as well as gene expression. Both factors can impact cancer development. Dr. David Buck, a neuromuscular dentist based in Washington state, fully understands how the foods we eat can manipulate gene expression.  

Outside Factors at Play?

According to Buck, our genetic code can be altered by outside, environmental influences, like our diet.  

"The original genetic blueprint can either be expressed or modified based on a gene-environment influence," Buck said.

And despite what mainstream science has eluded to, our genetic code hasn’t changed much, if it all, for many years.  

"If we go back to our ancestral, tribal population, they’ve discovered that our genetic code has not changed in thousands of years," Buck said. "Our genetic code is essentially the same."

But what has changed, Buck notes, is our diet. Because we’re consuming less nutritious, high-processed, we’re fundamentally changing our gene expression and quite possibly making ourselves more vulnerable to things like cancer. Thankfully, new research, like the Ohio State University study, is shedding light on how healthy foods can be life-preserving.  

Other "Sweet" Perks 

The Ohio State University study’s findings are significant as they help emphasize the importance of eating a balanced diet high in nutritionally-rich foods. Not only are strawberries the latest cancer-fighting food, but there are many other benefits. Strawberries contain malic acid which is a natural enamel whitener and can whiten teeth. Additionally, because they are packed with Vitamin C, strawberries help boost the production of collagen, a key protein that maintains gums strength.  Strawberries are also high in polyphenols, a compound that researchers believe inhibit the breakdown of starches in the mouth and fights the bacteria that can lead to gum disease and tooth decay.

Though more research is needed to fully substantiate the Ohio State University study, it certainly can’t hurt to eat a few more strawberries.


[1] "Strawberries could fight oral cancer in heavy smokers." Circleville Herald. N.p., 11 Apr. 2017. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.

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