Strawberries Can Improve Vascular and Cognitive Health

Strawberries are a staple treat in many homes, and recent research is suggesting that these common summer fruits can improve markers related to inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and decreased cognitive function. Three recent studies using different forms of strawberries and different risk group populations show a great deal of potential for using the humble strawberry to improve these health conditions.

Improvements in overall vascular health

The first study highlights freeze-dried strawberry powder (FDSP), and it was given as a therapy to adolescents at risk for vascular damage. 25 overweight or obese males who were between 14 and 18 years old were given 50g of either FDSP or an equally caloric non-strawberry control powder daily for one week. Subjects were measured based on platelet reactivity, plasma nitrate/nitrite, and microvascular function prior to and one hour after consuming their powders. After that week, subjects who consumed FDSP showed a marked increase in the Framingham reactive hyperemia index, as well as an increase in plasma nitrate. Both of these factors indicate improvements in overall vascular health in this risk group, opening up the potential for further study on these benefits for a larger population. FDSP has not frequently been used in studies, and it’s encouraging to see health benefits from these preserved forms, as fresh strawberries may not be available to all populations throughout the year.

Reducting inflammation in obese adults

The second study focused on the reduction of inflammation in obese adults, using a freeze fried strawberry beverage (FDS) which was noted to contain berry flavonoids. This trial had 60 subjects who had abdominal obesity and elevated serum triglycerides. Subjects were broken down into four groups, a high and low dose control non-strawberry beverage group, and a high and low dose strawberry beverage group. The control drinks were matched to the strawberry drinks by caloric and fiber content. After 12 weeks, the subjects in the high dose strawberry group showed significant improvement, with a dramatically reduced amount of serum nitrite, compared to the control groups and the low dose group. Nitrite is commonly increased in those with obesity and elevated blood lipids, and is strongly associated with increased inflammation. Since inflammation is a widespread problem especially among those with unhealthy levels of adipose tissue, substituting beverages made from strawberries for higher calorie and less nutrient dense drinks as well as bringing more of these berries into the diet can yield improvements in overall health.

Cognitive function in older adults

Finally, the third recent trial looks at cognitive function in older adults. From previous studies, we’ve seen that blueberries can improve cognition in this risk group, and it appears strawberries can have a similar benefit. Researchers from the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University chose 37 healthy men and women, ages 60-75 to participate. They consumed either freeze dried strawberry powder equivalent to two cups of fresh strawberries, or a control non-strawberry powder of equal caloric value, for 90 days. Subjects maintained their normal diet for the duration of the study, though all berries were excluded except for the powder in the trial. Those in the strawberry group, at the end of the 90 days, showed improvements in word recognition as well as special memory. Previous studies show similar potential for strawberry consumption and the positive impact on the aging human brain, noting their antioxidant content and the inhibition of COX enzymes, which help to mediate the inflammatory processes in the body and brain.

While fresh strawberries would be considered optimal for clients to use in their daily food plans, there are various reasons why this may not be possible. These studies focused on freeze dried strawberry powder, which can retain up to 97% of the nutrients as the fresh fruit, making this a valuable and versatile alternative for anyone unwilling or unable to use the fresh fruit. Canned generally retains less than half of the nutrients, so choices like jellies and jams won’t offer as much benefit.Some clients may have an allergy or sensitivity to strawberries, and while this allergy can be relatively rare, testing may be a good option before increasing strawberry use. For clients who are not allergic, strawberries are high in nutrition including vitamin C, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that can be otherwise lacking in their diets, so suggesting this sweet fruit may be a very welcome idea.

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