A Couple Nitpicks About the 'Strawberries Cure Cancer' Study

Why we're waiting for the peer reviews to come back

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Okay, so. Today, researchers from Ohio State University presented some eyebrow-raising findings: strawberries may help fight cancer. Freeze-dried strawberries applied without a control group in a study funded by the California Strawberry Commission will, at least. The researchers had a group of 36 test subjects consume 30 grams of freeze-dried strawberries, ground up and dissolved in a glass of water, twice a day for six months. The participants all had mild-to-moderate pre-cancerous lesions in the esophagus. By the end of the study, the lesions were growing more slowly in 29 of the 36 participants.

But here are the caveats: Thirty-six is a really small number of test subjects, and the research itself is highly preliminary--it hasn't been peer-reviewed, and the Ohio State team didn't even use a control group getting placebos. Also, as The Wall Street Journal notes, "the freeze-dried substance is about 10 times as concentrated as fresh strawberries"--meaning even if the findings about freeze-dried berries are sound, you can't chow down on supermarket berries and expect them to have the same effect.

There's also the fact that funding for the study comes from the strawberry industry itself. The Journal reports that the Ohio State researchers got their money and freeze-dried fruit from the California Strawberry Commission, "a state agency funded by the strawberry industry."

This is not the first time that strawberries, or strawberry products, or berries in general, have been touted for their anti-cancer potential, although it's one of the earliest to test the effects in real, live humans rather than petri dishes or rodents. The Ohio State study is definitely suggestive, but far from conclusive--as the researchers themselves acknowledge. In the meantime, "there are other, proven ways to limit your risk for esophageal cancer, including avoiding two well-established risk factors--smoking and drinking alcohol," points out David Freeman at CBS. And "until solid evidence surfaces," writes Marissa Cevallos at the Los Angeles Times, "it's probably best to follow that old advice: Eat a balanced diet."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.