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Do Fruits and Vegetables Prevent Cancer?

Every month, it seems, brings a new study claiming a fruit or a vegetable prevents cancer. Today, researchers from Ohio State University unveiled findings that strawberries may prevent esophageal cancer. Don't rush off to your local grocery store just yet, though: the study only had 36 participants, no control group, and has not been peer-reviewed. Plus, the strawberries were actually freeze-dried, which means they were about 10 times more concentrated. Still, particularly health-conscious readers must be asking: since esophageal cancer is the "sixth most frequent cause of cancer death in the world," is there any indication fruits and vegetables do prevent it?

It depends on the type of cancer, say doctors from the National Institute of Health. In examining the 490,000 participants in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, the study's authors found a significant inverse association between fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, which forms (not surprisingly) in the squamous cells lining the esophagus, and is typically associated with alcohol or tobacco consumption. There was no link, however, between fruit and vegetable intake and esophageal adenocarcinoma, which forms in the glandular cells, and is more often associated with damage from stomach acid. The authors are not certain of the mechanisms behind this correlation, but they suggest that the answer may lie not inside the fruits and vegetables, but on their surfaces: "Though we observed a significant association with whole fruit intake, we did not observe an association with fruit juice. Fruit juice typically contains high concentrations of Vitamin C, but low concentrations of nutrients found in the fruit pulp or skin, such as fiber, flavonoids and carotenoids." And no, "extra pulp" orange juice won't be enough.

For more research on what’s in the news, check out the rest of TNR’s newest blog, The Study.