Berries: Brimming With Natural Benefits

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries-it seems as though much of our world is designed to have a berry within reach from the first warm days of spring to the last cool days before frost.

And a good thing, too. Berries may help protect your body from cancer, urinary tract infections, viruses and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. They may also help reduce your allergy symptoms. They might even help prevent eye and nerve damage in people who have diabetes.

All berries are packed with quercetin, a cousin of vitamin C that can help smother the inflammatory process that damages eyes and nerves as a result of diabetes and that causes the symptoms of allergies, bursitis, asthma and arthritis. Quercetin also may decrease the infectious power of such viruses as herpes, polio and Epstein-Barr. It may even be helpful in healing wounds.

Berry for berry, strawberries may be the most health-promoting because they are also the richest source of a cancer-fighting substance called ellagic acid. Also found in raspberries, blackberries and loganberries, ellagic acid can apparently help prevent cancer by partially neutralizing three different cancer-causing agents: nitrosamines, which are chemicals found in tobacco and processed foods; aflatoxins, substances produced by mold found on certain foods; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, invisible by-products of combustion found in the atmosphere and tobacco smoke.

Strawberries are also a rich source of vitamin C, with one cup providing 141 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance. This vitamin richness, scientists think, gives strawberries weapon against lung cancer.

In a study at the Louisiana State University Medical Center in New Orleans, an area known to have high cancer rates, researchers asked 1253 area residents who had lung cancer about their diets, then questioned 1274 people who did not have lung cancer. Researchers found that those who ate the most fruit were less likely to have lung cancer. In fact, they were able to conclude that eating a lot of strawberries reduced the chances of lung cancer in Louisiana by 30 percent.

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