Strawberries: The New

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but strawberries appear to be just as potent when it comes to fighting disease.

In fact, research suggests that the scarlet fruit is a true nutritional blockbuster. Strawberries contain abundant amounts of a naturally occurring flavonoid called fisetin; it's found in lesser quantities in other fruits. Fisetin may lessen the complications of diabetes, according to research reported in Science Daily.

The research on the berries was conducted in The Salk Institute's Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, the same lab where in previous research, scientists learned that fisetin enhanced the memories of healthy mice.

"This manuscript describes for the first time a drug that prevents both kidney and brain complications in a Type 1 diabetes mouse model," David Schubert, Ph.D., head of the Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory and a co-author of the study, told Science Daily.

The study's corresponding author, CNL senior staff scientist Pam Maher, Ph.D, had singled out fisetin as a health-enhancing flavonoid a decade ago. She told Science Daily: "In plants, flavonoids act as sunscreens and protect leaves and fruit from insects. As foods they are implicated in the protective effect of the 'Mediterranean Diet.'"

Certain compounds in blueberries and red wine also contain health-promoting flavonoids.

Without more research, it's still premature to advise consumers to rush out and buy great quantities of strawberries to stave off diabetes, says Ryan Bradley, ND, MPH, a clinical research assistant professor at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington.   

"Future research will have to differentiate the actions of these different polyphenolic compounds like fisetin," Bradley says. "We need to find out which are more potent and how they can translate into recommendations for our patients."

In the Salk Institute research, the scientists set out to evaluate the effects of fisetin supplements in Akita mice that have the type of high blood sugar found in patients with Type 1 diabetes. The mice being studied also had complications such as kidney disease and eye disease. When they were given a diet rich in fisetin, kidney enlargement was reversed and high levels of protein in the urine, a telltale sign of kidney disease, decreased. The scientists also noticed that the mice that consumed the fisetin didn't display the anxious behavior typical of diabetic mice.

"Most mice put in a large area become exploratory," Maher told Science Daily. "But anxious mice tend not to move around. Akita mice showed enhanced anxiety behavior, but fisetin feeding restored their locomotion to more normal levels."

For a person to get the amount of fisetin that the mice in the study ingested, he'd have to eat 37 strawberries daily. But one day, a fisetin-containing supplement could be available.

Bradley says he's a little disappointed that some experts think of fisetin as a potential drug. "We have known for a long time that eating certain foods can reduce the risk of diabetes," he says. "In my opinion, people should be eating more of these foods."

Meanwhile, Schubert told Science Daily, consumers should eat a balanced diet, exercise, avoid sugary sodas and highly processed foods, and keep active both socially and mentally.

As for the strawberries, the possibilities for serving them are nearly endless. Serve with a yogurt dip, cut them up and eat them with frozen yogurt or regular yogurt, or make a fruit pizza, says Adee Rasabi, RD, CDN, CDE, CSG, of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. "For a fruit pizza, layer yogurt and strawberries on a graham cracker," she suggests. "Or make a fruit parfait with strawberries and yogurt."

"It's not an apple a day after all—it's strawberries: Flavonoids could represent two-fisted assault on diabetes and nervous system disorders" 28 June 2011. Science Daily