For the 16,000 Americans diagnosed with esophageal cancer each year, the forecast is too often discouraging, with only one in ten surviving beyond five years. Fortunately, there’s good news on the horizon: Emerging research suggests strawberries could help the halt growth of precancerous throat lesions.

Ohio State University researchers collaborated with a team in China where esophageal cancer rates are highest, due to a combined prevalence of risk factors such as smoking, alcohol abuse and excessive salt intake. The study involved 36 patients (average age 55), who had either mild or moderate esophageal cancer. After six months of consuming freeze-dried strawberries daily, 84% of those with mild cancer had improved, and 60% with moderate cancer improved. According to Dr. Tong Chen, who presented the findings to a recent meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research, “We found that daily consumption of strawberries suppressed various biomarkers involved in esophageal carcinogenesis, including cell proliferation, inflammation and gene transcription.”

These results build on earlier, preliminary lab research in which strawberry samples suppressed proliferation of colon, prostate, and oral cancer cell cultures. Strawberry compounds are under study for other potential benefits. For example, strawberry-supplemented diets were found to slow and even reverse age-related brain decline in rats. Canadian researchers found that adding strawberries to the diet of patients with heart disease risk factors lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol by 13%. And who doesn’t want to eat more strawberries? A cup of these luscious berries provides 140% vitamin C, 30% manganese and 12% fiber, all for a mere 46 calories.

Bonus: A diet rich in nutrient-dense fruit like strawberries can help you avoid becoming obese, which quadruples your chances of developing cancers of the upper stomach or esophagus. Try strawberries in our Mixed Berry Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette.

 Published June 1, 2011