Drinking can wreak havoc on your insides, and not just the relatively short-lived brand of havoc brought on by a one-night drinking spree. We're talking long-term damage to the mucous membrane of your stomach that can give rise to all manner of gastrointestinal disorders, including ulcers, colorectal cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Now a team of European scientists has found that strawberries can help mitigate the stomach-punishing effects of alcohol consumption, and could even help improve the treatment of stomach ulcers.
Sara Tulipani, researcher at the University of Barcelona and co-author of the study, explains that "the positive effects of strawberries are not only linked to their antioxidant capacity and high content of phenolic compounds, but also to the fact that they activate the antioxidant defenses and enzymes of the body."
Translation? Gastrointestinal diseases like stomach ulcers are caused in part by what are known as free radicals, which are atoms and molecules with unpaired electrons. The fact that these chemicals have unpaired electrons makes them unstable and highly reactive. In an attempt to regain stability, these free radicals will react with and try to nab electrons from other, normal molecules, giving rise to damaging chain reactions in your cells that accumulate over time.
Free radicals are the byproducts of oxidation reactions that go on inside your body; so when when Tulipani talks about the "antioxidant capacity" of strawberries, or their ability to activate the antioxidant defenses of the body, she's talking about their ability to inhibit the oxidation of other molecules, and, by extension, the production of harmful free radicals.
Finally, the phenolic compounds Tulipani is referring to are called anthocyanins (the same class of molecules that causes leaves to appear red during autumn), which are described by the researchers as having a "high radical-scavenging activity."
To verify the protective effects of strawberries and anthocyanins, Tulipani and her colleagues gave absolute ethanol to laboratory rats for a period of one hour, after which their stomachs were examined for injury in the form of ulceration.
Those rats that had been fed anthocyanin-containing strawberry extracts in the days leading up to ingestion of alcohol suffered significantly less gastric damage. What's more, the researchers found that rats that had consumed strawberry extract with a higher total anthocyanin content sustained significantly less gastric injury than those that had eaten less anthocyanin-rich extract.
The rats in the study were fed strawberry extract in quantities of 40 milligrams per day per kilogram of body weight, starting as much as 10 days before they were given alcohol. But according to Maurizio Batino, coordinator of the research group at the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy, "the consumption of strawberries during or after pathology could lessen stomach mucous membrane damage" as well.
So there you have it. Not that we'd ever be ones to condone heavy drinking, but remember: if you are planning on punishing your stomach lining this weekend, be sure to load up on strawberries in the days ahead. Just make sure to ask for the ones with extra anthocyanins.
The researchers' findings are published in the latest issue of PLoS ONE.