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Strawberries May Increase Gut Bacteria Associated with Lean Body Weight, Health, and LongevityUCLA study suggests strawberries act as prebiotics and may positively alter the gut microbiome

February 17, 2021
nutrition
strawberry nutrition news
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Strawberries act as prebiotics and may increase gut bacteria associated with lean body weight, health, and longevity, according to a new study out of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The pilot study, published in Nutrition Research, considered whether strawberries would alter the gut microbiota. Principal Investigator Dr. Zhaoping Li, MD, PhD, Director of the Center for Human Nutrition, and Chief of the Division of Clinical Nutrition at UCLA, said the team chose strawberries because, “Strawberry is a nutrient-dense fruit with vitamins, minerals, especially phenolic compounds and fibers, that can [offer] strong prebiotics to feed our gut microbiota.”

Rich in vitamin C and polyphenols, strawberries have already shown their potential to decrease LDL cholesterol, blood glucose, insulin resistance, cognitive decline, and other disease risk factors. The gut microbiota is the next frontier for scientific exploration of strawberries’ impact on nutritional health.

Design

Fourteen adults between the ages of 18-55 participated in the study. They were asked to follow a “beige” diet low in fiber and polyphenols for 6 weeks. After 2 weeks, a 13g strawberry powder drink was introduced to the diet twice a day, for four weeks. This is the equivalent of eating 2 cups of fresh strawberries per day. The strawberry powder was made from California strawberries that were freeze-dried and milled to a fine powder that can easily be mixed in water. After consuming the beige + strawberry diet for four weeks, the participants returned to a beige-only diet for 2 weeks without strawberries.

The researchers collected data at baseline, Week 4, and Week 6. Blood, urine, and stool samples allowed the research team to analyze fecal microbiota composition, the primary outcome. Secondary outcomes included the effect of daily strawberry consumption on fecal cholesterol, fecal bile acids, and fecal microbial metabolites of cholesterol, bile acids, and short chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

Results

Drinking strawberry powder beverages twice a day for four weeks was associated with an increase of 24 operational taxonomic units (OTUs), or gut microorganisms. Once the participants returned to a beige-only diet, several of the microorganisms reversed back to their pre-strawberry status, suggesting strawberry’s role in influencing the gut bacteria.

Fecal SCFAs and most of the fecal markers including cholesterol, coprostanol, and primary and secondary bile acids were not changed significantly except for lithocholic acid, which was increased significantly at Week 6 compared to baseline.

Conclusions

The research team concluded that the increased consumption of fiber and polyphenols from the strawberry powder beverage may have contributed to a beneficial microbial pattern with increased abundance of bacteria from the families Christensenellaceae, Verrucomicrobiaceae, Mogibacteraceae, Bacteroidaceae and Bifidobacteriaceae, as well as multiple members of the Lachnospiraceae and Ruminococcaceae families, and decreased Alcaligenaceae/Sutterella. The reversal of alterations in abundance of Christensenellaceae, Verrucomicrobiaceae, and Mogibacteriaceae from Week 4 to Week 6 supports that these particular bacteria are major candidates contributing to health and possibly longevity in healthy individuals consuming strawberries.

The authors caution that as a small pilot study, there are limitations that prevent drawing any strong conclusions about the effect of eating strawberries on the gut microbiota. The study lacked a proper placebo, and a cross-over design would be more appropriate to eliminate some of the interindividual variations. Additionally, the low-fiber beige diet might have limited the nutritional sources for the SCFA formation and cholesterol- and bile acid-metabolizing bacteria.

Dr. Li shared, “The study showed that it is important to include healthy foods such as strawberry in [the] diet. The gut microbiota is a community of ten to [a] hundred trillion live microorganisms residing in the intestine and related to our overall health. Consumption of strawberry increased the abundance of gut microorganisms that could lead to lean body weight, better health, and longevity.”

Larger intervention studies are needed to determine effects of strawberry on fecal bacterial metabolites.

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