Study: Strawberries improve colon health, reduce IBD symptoms

AMHERST, Mass. — Strawberries are more than scrumptious. Researchers have found that eating just a few of them each day may improve gut health and relieve inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

IBD is a painful condition that affects at least 3 million adults in the U.S., causing fatigue, diarrhea and other symptoms. IBD includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and is also a risk factor for colorectal cancer.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst discovered that adding less than a cupful of strawberries to your diet every day could potentially reverse the bothersome effects of IBD.

“The sedentary lifestyle and dietary habits of many people in this country — high-sugar, high-animal-fat, but low-fiber diets — may promote colonic inflammation and increase the risk of IBD,” says lead study author Hang Xiao, Ph.D., with the university’s Department of Food Science, in a release by the American Chemical Society.

Study authors say fruits and vegetables are known to lower the risk of IBD. Because of their popularity, strawberries have already been the focus of limited studies.

“But when you only test the purified compounds and extracts,” says study coauthor Yanhui Han, a Ph.D. student at the university, “you miss out on a lot of other important components in the berries, such as dietary fiber, as well as phenolic compounds bound to the fibers, that can’t be extracted by solvents.”

One of the benefits of studying whole berries, he says, is that this is the way fruits are usually consumed.

Researchers conducted an experiment on four groups of mice. One group of healthy mice was fed a regular diet. Three groups of mice with IBD were fed different diets: one group continued a regular diet; another consumed a diet with 2.5 percent whole strawberry powder; and the third was given a diet with 5 percent whole strawberry powder. The dosing was designed to mimic what would typically be consumed by humans.

The authors found that the equivalent of as little as three-quarters of a cup of strawberries daily offered powerful suppression of such symptoms as bloody diarrhea and weight loss in the IBD mice. The treatments also reduced inflammation as well as harmful bacteria — and a subsequent increase in healthy bacteria — in the colon.

Researchers also saw data that hinted at possible reversals in abnormal metabolic pathways in the mice with IBD.

The authors are hoping to try out their findings on humans with IBD. They recommend, however, that anyone planning to eat three-quarters of a cup of strawberries daily first check with their doctor before making any diet changes. And, of course, avoid strawberries if allergic to them.

Study findings were presented at the 256th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).