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Big Raspberry’s mish-mash of animal, lab dish and human studies reveals little about health benefits of raspberries

Studies explore the potential benefits of red raspberries

Our Review Summary

This news release from the National Processed Raspberry Council (NPRC) summarized findings from eight recent studies on the potential health benefits of raspberries. Based on presentations from the 2017 Experimental Biology conference in Chicago, the release described studies that looked at the effects of raspberries on blood sugar control, satiety, gut health, type 2 diabetes, and inflammation. 

The studies were all summarized in only a paragraph, and all lacked important numbers that would quantify the benefits of the interventions. There were no mentions of relative risk, absolute risk, or other common measurements. However, the news release gets points for using a balanced tone, inserting some caveats about the research and disclosing a very obvious conflict of interest. 

 

Why This Matters

Raspberries are a common and easily accessible fruit. The trade group’s goal here appears to be aimed at garnering interest in processed raspberries for their health benefits. If this were proven true, raspberry consumption would be a convenient and nutritional way for people to keep common ailments in check. 

But the research findings mentioned here should be taken with a grain of salt. They are a mix of human, in vitro (lab dish) and animal studies, many of them small pilot studies that don’t come close to proving cause and effect.

There may be less science here than seems to meet the eyes. All eight studies were published in a journal “supplement” in the April 2017 FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) Journal. Medical journals often publish such supplements dedicated to a particular topic which are sponsored by a special interest group. Most supplements are not peer reviewed.

This release also highlights a pitfall of trying to cover unrelated studies in a single release. Explanation of the studies are capped at a few sentences and leave numerous unanswered questions about limitations. 

Criteria

Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The news release doesn’t refer to costs.

Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Despite the claim that these studies support future research of red raspberries and their potential to reduce “inflammation, obesity, and type 2 diabetes risk,” none of the study summaries include actual numbers putting the benefits in context. Some of the results were called “significant,” but without numbers putting the findings in context the word is meaningless. 

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

The news release didn’t mention any harms from eating raspberries, but that may be because there are no documented harms. Unless you are allergic, it seems safe to eat raspberries in moderation like any other fruit or vegetable.

Still, out of eight studies it’s reasonable to think one of them examined potential harms or made a statement about the lack of harms. Even noting “there were no observed harms” would be helpful.

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

In the introduction and in the study summaries, the release did a good job of using conservative language and emphasizing that some of the trials were inconclusive or preliminary. 

We especially applaud their frankness in this sentence of the release: “While this emerging research is promising, and contributes to the overall understanding of the health benefits of red raspberries, conclusions cannot be drawn at this time.”

The news release did well to distinguish between trials that were done in humans and in mice, and in once instance it pointed out that a study had only taken place over the course of three meals. Though they should have included numbers and data, their inclusion of the study limitations here were helpful. 

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There was no disease mongering. 

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The news release was transparent about the conflict of interest—it was released by the National Processed Raspberry Council (NPRC). On its website, the NPRC says its mission is to “promote the consumption of processed raspberries based on research results.”

The studies were all funded by the trade group, and that’s noted on the EurekAlert! sidebar, where the release is hosted.

The news release also included a blurb at the bottom acknowledging that the NPRC “represents the processed raspberry industry.” 

Many news releases have conflicts of interest—at least the NPRC was honest about it. 

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The news release was focused on raspberries, and raspberries alone. It would have been useful to know if other related berries (maybe blackberries, elderberries or lingonberries) have been found to have similar benefits. 

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Availability generally isn’t an issue—raspberries are a common fruit known to most who shop at grocery stores. However, prices (and therefore access) can fluctuate widely depending on where you live.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

This news release was a summary of new research presented at the 2017 Experimental Biology conference in Chicago. But just because the research was new, doesn’t mean the ideas are. Though the studies looked at five different health issues (blood sugar, satiety, gut health, type 2 diabetes, and inflammation), the release itself didn’t indicate whether these discoveries were new, or simply building on past research. 

Does the news release include unjustifiable, sensational language, including in the quotes of researchers?

Satisfactory

As previously mentioned, the news release did a good job of keeping sensational language in check. The release kept a cautious tone, and made note of caveats and limitations in each study. 

Total Score: 4 of 8 Satisfactory

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