Whole Strawberries Studied for Their Anti-inflammatory Benefits

UMass Amherst food scientist receives grant for research into fruit’s effects in the gut
Hang Xiao
Hang Xiao

AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts Amherst food scientist Hang Xiao has received a new federal grant to expand his research into the health benefits of certain fruits and vegetables; in this case, strawberries.

With a three-year, $500,000 grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Xiao and colleagues will aim to identify the mechanism by which whole strawberries affect the gut in positive ways. Findings from one of Xiao’s earlier studies suggested a strong scientific basis for using strawberries to support colon health and suppress or reduce or prevent inflammation of the colon.

“Whole strawberry contains various potential anti-inflammatory components. However, there is no detailed mechanistic information available on the overall protective effects of whole strawberry,” says Xiao, professor and Clydesdale Scholar of Food Science. “We want to look at the fruit as a whole because that’s the way people consume them. We don’t want to leave out any beneficial components since all of them act together and even produce synergy in the human GI tract to contribute to health.”

Xiao and UMass Amherst colleagues David Sela and Guodong Zhang, both associate professors of food science; and Zhenhua Liu, associate professor of nutrition in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences will use mouse models in their new experiments.

“We hope to gain new knowledge on how whole foods, such as berries, promote colon health and how the bioactive components of the berries fight against colonic inflammation,” Xiao says.

The researchers will feed freeze-dried whole strawberry to mice at doses equivalent to one to two cups of fresh strawberries per day in humans.

“We want to test our hypothesis that whole strawberry will inhibit the development of colon inflammation,” Xiao says. “We will use two unique mouse models that closely represent the human colon inflammation situation to determine the anti-inflammatory effect of whole strawberries and elucidate the potential mechanism of actions.”

Based on earlier research, the scientists theorize that the whole strawberry inhibits colon inflammation by alleviating an imbalance in the composition and function of gut microflora, which in turn restores a homeostatis in the colon.  

Xiao hopes this research will ultimately lead to clinical trials in humans and help develop whole-food-based strategies to improve colon health.