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Scientists say that children on chemotherapy can safely eat strawberries

Posted February 28, 2018

You may not know this, but children who are receiving chemotherapy are not allowed to eat strawberries. Chemotherapy weakens immune system and makes patients more prone to infections. That is why doctors do not recommend eating any kind of uncooked food. However, now scientists from the University of York say that fresh fruits should be allowed by these guidelines.

Strawberries have a pitted surface, which is ideal for bacteria to hide in, but they don’t seem to increase the risk of infections. Image credit: Silar via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

The problem with strawberries, of course, is their surface. It is pitted and uneven, which allows bacteria to stick to it better. On the other hand, uncooked food in general is viewed as less clean from bacteria and is advised to be avoided during chemotherapy. This is called “neutropenic” diet which aims to limit exposure to germs carried by food by avoiding anything uncooked. Now scientists reviewed multiple studies researching the neutropenic diet and say that it makes no difference – it does not reduce the risk of infections. Furthermore, it actually reduces the quality of life of the children undergoing treatment.

Scientists argue that neutropenic diet is less nutritious and less delicious. The biggest issue is that it is not effective. Researchers say that it would be more meaningful to focus on healthy and safe food rather than putting emphasis on sterile cooked products. Dr Bob Phillips, lead author of the review, said: “We suggest that dietary guidelines for child cancer patients should contain advice on avoiding foods that are high risk for food poisoning – much like existing guidelines for pregnant women”. It could be that these guidelines are just old, since neutropenic diet became popular in the 1970s.

You may wonder why scientists are talking about children specifically and not all cancer patients. Well, adult people suffering from cancer can typically get a surgery, which is sometimes followed with a milder dose of chemotherapy. This is painful process and it does damage people’s immune system. However, children receive much more intense chemotherapy – it is so strong adults wouldn’t even be able to survive it. And so their diet is more of a concern.

Strawberries are delicious. They can increase the mood and become a healthy little treat. Doctors will have to see when they can safely recommend eating fresh fruit and when it is still too risky.


Source: University of York

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