Transcript: Strawberries vs. Esophageal Cancer
Studies like these showing that the fruits can suppress the growth of cancer in a petri dish are all well and good, but we need to know if they can do the same thing within the human body. It’s considered unethical to withhold conventional cancer therapies, like surgery/chemo/radiation to test out some fruit or vegetable, so what do you do? Well one direction researchers have taken is to use “combinatorial strategies,” for example, adding phytonutrients from the spice turmeric and green tea along with chemotherapy to see if that works better than chemo alone, but this gets complicated because chemo and radiation often work by killing cancer cells with free radicals and so though antioxidants may certainly reduce the toxicity of the treatment there’s a theoretical concern it could reduce the efficacy as well.
Another way you can study the effects of plants on cancer is by testing dietary interventions on slow growing cancers like prostate, which is how Ornish and colleagues were able to show his apparent reversal in cancer growth with a plant-based diet. He could only get away with that because these patients were in the early watch-and-wait stage of cancer.
Esophageal cancer is not the cancer to get. Five-year survival’s only about 13%, with most people dying within the first year of diagnosis. The development of esophageal cancer is a multistage process. You start out with a normal esophagus, the tube that connects you mouth to your stomach. Starts out fine, then
precancerous changes start to take place, then localized cancer starts to grow, then eventually it spreads and you die.
Because of the well-defined, stepwise progression of esophageal, researchers jumped on it as a way to test the ability of berries—the healthiest fruits—to reverse the progression of cancer. A randomized phase 2 clinical trial of powdered strawberries in patients with precancerous lesions of the esophagus. Six months of eating 1 to 2 ounces a day of freeze dried strawberries—that’s like over a pound of fresh strawberries a day, and the progression of disease was reversed in 80% of the high dose strawberry treatment. At the beginning of the study, none had a normal esophagus. They either had mild or moderate precancerous disease. But by the end of the study most lesions either regressed from moderate to mild, or disappeared completely. Here’s some representative before and after pictures. From moderate to mild. Or from mild, to gone. By the end of the study half of those on the high dose of strawberries walked away disease free.
A drop in tumor markers: before, and after. All because of just strawberries. Showing for the first time that dietary strawberries could significantly decrease the grade of patients’ precancerous esophageal lesions. Cellular proliferation before and after treatment, with strawberries.
Recent population studies also suggest that plant foods are protective against esophageal cancer. Diets with lots of meat and fat appear to double the odds of cancer; and lots of fruits and vegetables may cut one’s odds of esophageal cancer in half.
A diet rich in foods from animal origin and poor in foods containing vitamins and fiber, in other words plant foods, may increase esophageal cancer risk. And now we know at least one plant that may even reverse the course of disease if caught early enough.
The findings were heralded as groundbreaking in an editorial in the journal of the American Association for Cancer research. Given that it was written by a pair of pharmacy professors, though, they of course concluded “that the active components and molecular targets responsible for the efficacy of strawberries must be identified.” Posing the question, is the best approach to just eat strawberries, or can they make a strawberry-derived drug that works even better.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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