by: Lee Strogov
Research shows that these little red power packs do far more than prevent UTIs.Long recognized as a homespun preventive for urinary-tract infections, new research suggests that cranberries are packed with numerous other health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, helping to prevent certain ulcers and even delaying gum disease.
Getting Out of A Sticky Situation
Originally, cranberries were thought to help prevent urinary-tract infections by acidifying the urine. But studies performed since the 1980s provide evidence that cranberry’s action is quite different: It contains compounds that prevent infection-causing bacteria from sticking to the surrounding cell walls. This “microbial anti-adhesion effect” shows promise for fighting infections in other parts of the body, including the stomach, the respiratory tract and even the mouth.
“Cranberry juice may essentially help our bodies to flush out some harmful organisms,” says Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D., a Beverly Hills pharmacist, nutritionist, herbalist and author. Unlike antibiotics, which kill bacteria, cranberry’s mode of action appears to involve interfering with their ability to initiate an infection.
According to research conducted jointly by the University of Michigan and Rutgers University, cranberry juice may inhibit the attachment ability of a type of bacteria that is a common cause of upper-respiratory infections. Studies also found that cranberries interfered with the attachment ability of some strains of H. pylori, a major cause of gastric and duodenal ulcers. And, according to a report in The Journal of the American Dental Association, cranberry compounds also keep plaque-causing bacteria from adhering to one another, potentially reducing the risk of gum disease. Cranberry has shown similar promise for fighting cavity-causing bacteria as well. Note that these were all test tube studies; whether or not cranberry taken orally has a similar effect on these organisms when they are in the human body remains unclear.
“This bacterial anti-adherence mechanism is very distinctive and offers a possibly useful alternative to antibiotics,” says Martin Starr, Ph.D., science advisor to the Cranberry Institute. Starr adds that test tube studies show that cranberry juice has effects on even drug-resistant bacteria. “The cranberry was effective on the garden-variety bugs as well as the nasty drug-resistant ones.” This, Starr explains, has huge potential implications when it comes to the drug-resistance issues prevalent in today’s medical environment.
How To Take
If you don’t mind the tartness of the unsweetened juice, have the equivalent of one glass daily (it needs to be mixed with still or sparkling water). Or, drink a mixture of 20 ml of the concentrate (about 1 tablespoon) and four parts water daily, or take cranberry supplements (follow label directions). To ensure supplement bioactivity, select a product made from the whole cranberry or cranberry juice concentrate.
Research suggests that nutrients in cranberry juice reduce the risk of heart disease.
Berry Good For Your Heart
There may be some compelling heart-healthy reasons to increase your intake of cranberry products. Research conducted at the University of Scranton, Pa., suggests that nutrients found in cranberry juice can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease by increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol, as well as by increasing the presence of antioxidants in the blood. In the first month of the 90-day trial, each of the 19 participants consumed one daily 8-oz serving of juice. The second month, they consumed two 8-oz servings daily, and the third month, three servings. At the conclusion of each of the three months, researchers measured the participants’ total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and antioxidant levels.
After one month, there was no change in any of the participants. However, once intake rose to two glasses daily, antioxidant levels rose by 111%; when three glasses a day were consumed, that figure climbed to 121%. What’s more, the HDL of those drinking three glasses of juice per day rose by 10%. According to Joe Vinson, Ph.D., the chemist who led the study, that equates to about a 40% reduction in heart disease.
“It’s definitely one of the most important fruit juices you can drink,” says Vinson. “There are some suggestions that cranberries are the No. 1 antioxidant fruit, and that even orange juice doesn’t compare to cranberry juice when it comes to positively affecting antioxidant levels in blood.”
Cranberry supplements give you the nutrients of juice without the added sugars.
All Thriller, No Filler
Before you run out and buy cranberry juice in bulk, you might want to take a few things into consideration. To reduce their bitterness, commercial cranberry juices and cocktails contain added sugars—enough to possibly counteract some of cranberry’s beneficial effects. In Vinson’s clinical trials, those volunteers who drank sweetened cranberry juice experienced a rise in triglycerides, which are associated with increased risk of heart disease. There are also plenty of us who’d prefer to do without the 435 calories and attendant sugar that comes with three glasses a day.
Mindell’s suggestion is to take cranberry extract or cranberry concentrate instead of loading up on the commonly available sweetened juices. “Most people would never drink pure cranberry juice; it’s too tart,” he says. “I’m totally in favor of the concentrated capsules or liquids that give you the active ingredients without the unnecessary sugar.”
However, not all cranberry supplements contain proanthocyanidins, the active ingredients that fight bacterial infections, warns Amy Howell, Ph.D., a scientist at the Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research at Rutgers University. Products most likely to have them are those made from the whole cranberry or cranberry juice concentrate. Another of Howell’s favorite ways of getting an occasional cranberry “fix” is to sprinkle the dried fruit on her breakfast cereal.
The Bottom Line
A growing body of research suggests that the cranberry may provide multiple pathways to improved health through microbial anti-adhesion and cardiovascular benefits related to increased HDL and antioxidant activity. A picture is emerging that gives us many reasons to incorporate cranberry products into our diets.
Article found in WellBella Magazine February 2010 issue