Transcript: Strawberries vs. Esophageal Cancer
Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.
Studies like these, showing that 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. But, 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, or 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, antioxidants, though they may certainly reduce the toxicity of the treatment, there’s a theoretical concern, at least, that it could reduce the efficacy of the treatment, as well.
Another way you can study the effects of plants on cancer is by testing dietary interventions on slow-growing cancers, like prostate cancer, which is how Ornish and colleagues were able to show their apparent reversal in cancer growth with a plant-based diet. He could only get away with that because these patients were in an early, watch-and-wait stage of cancer. Are there any other cancers like that?
Esophageal cancer is not the cancer to get. Five-year survival is only about 13%, with most people dying within the first year of diagnosis. But, the development of esophageal cancer is a multistage process, though, right? You start out with a normal esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. Starts out fine, then precancerous changes take place, and then localized cancer starts to grow. And then, eventually it spreads. And then, you die.
Because of the well-defined, stepwise progression of esophageal cancer, 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 II [clinical] Trial of [powdered] Strawberries in Patients with…Precancerous Lesions of the Esophagus.” Six months of eating one or two 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 those on 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, after all those strawberries, most lesions either regressed from moderate to mild, or disappeared completely. Here’s some representative before-and-after pictures. Give some strawberries, and many went from moderate disease 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 of tumor markers, before and after. Some new chemo drug? No. 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. Look at that, right? And what’s the side effect? Like, get a little strawberry seed stuck in your teeth, or something?
Recent population studies also suggest that plant foods are protective against esophageal cancer, whereas 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 the editorial 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?
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