Strawberries Show Promise as a Potent Weapon against Oral Cancer

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Strawberries Show Promise

As a Potent Weapon against Oral Cancer

With fresh, local strawberries due on farmers’ market shelves in May, it’s easy to enjoy the cancer-protective benefits of berries all year long.

As the strawberry-growing season heats up, researchers are putting renewed attention into studying the beneficial effects of berries, including strawberries, on cancer. The berries’ cancer-fighting potential may be even greater than previously thought, with their many nutritional compounds providing protection against—and, in some cases, even reversal of—oral cancer. 

The strawberry’s effectiveness against oral cancer first came to light in a 2011 study in China, which was led by cancer researchers at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. In the study, patients with mild to moderate precancerous lesions of the esophagus consumed one to two ounces a day of a drink made with freeze-dried strawberry powder, made from whole berries. After six months, the progression of the disease was reversed in 80% of patients, from moderate to mild or from mild to completely eliminated.

In April 2017, OSU scientists presented the results of another study, in which they administered a candy containing the equivalent of 2.5 cups of whole strawberries to a group of smokers and nonsmokers. Participants ate the candy four times a day for a week, while abstaining from eating other red and purple vegetables.

At the end of one week, saliva and tissue samples from the smokers who consumed the strawberry candy showed significant differences, including in “changes in the microbiome, or bacteria, and in the expression of genes, both which may play a role in cancer’s development,” according to a summary on Newsmax Health. Encouraged by these preliminary results, OSU researchers are currently recruiting 250 smokers for their new study.

Strawberries pack an array of antioxidant and anti-cancer compounds, including anthocyanins, flavonoids, ellagic acid, and ellagitannins. They’re also high in fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, several B vitamins, folate, manganese, magnesium, copper, and omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to being a promising treatment for oral and other cancers, studies have found a positive correlation between berries and improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and improved blood-sugar regulation (and, thus, reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes).

Fresh, local berries often contain more nutrients than imported foods, and can easily be purchased in larger quantities and frozen for year-round enjoyment. To freeze fresh strawberries, simply remove the stems and caps, rinse well, and drain; then place the berries in a single layer on clean towels to dry. Place the dry berries in plastic containers or bags, and freeze until needed.

To find a local farm near you, visit our Find-a-Farm directory.

 

Member Spotlight: Tomion's Farm

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Member Spotlight:

Tomion's Farm, Penn Yan, NY

Farming has been part of the Tomion’s Farm family for so long that co-owner Alan Tomion is stumped when asked when they first established the business. He laughs and explains, “My great-grandfather started growing strawberries, and my father added vegetables. Then I expanded it with raspberries, hay, rhubarb. So it’s definitely been over 50 years. The farm has always been in our family.”

Located in the Finger Lakes in Penn Yan, the 160-acre Tomion’s Farm and store is open year-round, and sells strawberries, red raspberries, and blackberries, as well as a variety of fruits, vegetables, and live plants. The operation is primarily retail, with wholesale strawberry sales in the summer. The store also offers fresh baked goods and a selection of gifts.

Alan’s wife and co-owner, Crystal Tomion, runs the farm market, and oversees a handful of year-round part-time employees. Two of the couple’s sons have also joined the business.

While the invasive pest spotted wing drosophila (a common problem in the Northeast) posed a minor issue for the Tomions’ fall raspberries a few years ago, the farm’s proximity to the Geneva Experiment Station has allowed them to benefit from the expertise of Professor Greg Loeb, who has conducted research on the farm, and their strawberry crops have been unaffected. Instead, the biggest challenge has been finding summer laborers. Alan says, “There needs to be some kind of program for workers who aren’t citizens to be able to make a living and not be hassled,” and notes that tightening restrictions against noncitizen workers have reduced their seasonal prospects from 100 to about a dozen.

Tomions Farm Market New York State Berry Growers Association

Another challenge originates closer to home. The local Mennonite community, with their larger families and tradition of training their children as the next generation of laborers, are able to sell produce at a much lower price than farms with higher labor costs. “They’re stiff competition,” Alan admits.

Also stiff competition: grocery stores that sell peeled and washed produce and prepackaged dinners, and that target their marketing toward busy families and career people. “Older customers know that local berries have a lot more taste and nutrition,” Alan says. “But we’re slowly losing our older customers. Eating habits among younger people have changed quite a bit. They go out to eat more and buy more premade meals. And they don’t buy extra to freeze, like our older customers do.”

Still, Tomion’s Farm, which benefits from its high-visibility location on the busiest highway in the county, has succeeded for more than half a century by sticking to its mission of providing high-quality local foods. Alan and Crystal used to do more marketing and advertising, but ultimately decided that the cost outweighed the extra revenue that was needed to cover it. They now rely on their website and Facebook page, a few ads in local newspapers and magazines, and the word of mouth of customers, to spread the berry gospel.

Although Alan loves seeing first-time customers turn into repeat customers, for him, it all comes back to getting hands-on in the earth. “Farming is in my blood,” he says. “I just enjoy watching my crops grow.”

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The Health Benefits of Berries

Health Benefits of Berries

Beyond their ability to add flavor to and complement a variety of savory and sweet recipes, berries are vitamin- and flavonoid-packed powerhouses. Get to know more about each berry and how it can benefit your health.

Blueberry

  • Consistently ranked as one of the top antioxidant foods—twice the concentration of spinach, and three times the amount found in oranges and grapes!
  • High in vitamins C and K, and manganese
  • Good source of fiber
  • The newest research suggests that blueberries may reduce the risk of heart attack and be beneficial in halting age-related memory decline
  • Strawberry
  • Packed with vitamin C (one serving has 150% of the recommended daily value)
  • High in antioxidants
  • Good source of fiber, folate, potassium, and manganese

Blackberry

  • One of the earth’s strongest antioxidant foods, with high levels of polyphenolic compounds including ellagic acid, quercetin, and cyanidins
  • High level of fiber
  • High levels of vitamins C and K, manganese, and folic acid

Raspberry

  • Packed with fiber
  • High levels of vitamin C; vitamins B1, B2, and B3; magnesium, folic acid, and iron
  • High levels of antioxidants, including catechins, salicylic acid, and anthocyanins
  • Contain raspberry ketone, which some preliminary studies suggest may be helpful in weight control