Cranberries may be tangy and delicious, but don’t believe they are just a pretty plant. Cranberries are loaded with health benefits that stretch through the whole human body, and researchers are certain that the extent of their benefits are growing as more and more research is conducted. Cranberries were recognized by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as a nutrient-dense fruit. Just an 8-ounce glass of cranberry juice cocktail contains 137% of the daily value of vitamin C.
Benefits come in a Variety of Forms
Current research indicates that approximately 10 ounces of cranberry juice cocktail is needed daily to achieve the bacteria-blocking benefits that ward off UTIs, ulcers and gum disease. You can get these benefits in an array of cranberry products. For round-the-clock protection, snack or cook with one of these products at least once a day.
The illustrations below show the equivalent amounts of other cranberry products needed to achieve these bacteria-blocking health benefits.
Historical Health Consideration
Historically, the health-promoting properties of cranberries have been based on folkloric remedies, which have existed for centuries. The healthy giving properties of this fruit were recognized by Native American Indians, and early New England sailors are said to have eaten the vitamin C-rich wild cranberries to prevent scurvy.
Composition of Raw Cranberries
Urinary Tract Health
One of the best-known benefits of cranberries is their use in promoting urinary tract health. Since the turn of the century, cranberries have been used as a folk remedy for the treatment of bacterial urinary tract infections (UTIs), which cause frequent and painful urination. The first reported use of cranberries by conventional medical practitioners was in 1923, where it was suggested that cranberries acidify the urine, thus killing the bacteria causing the UTI. More recently, heightened scientific interest and laboratory research appear to validate the effect of cranberries on UTIs but present an explanation other than urinary acidification.
A 1994 study conducted at the Harvard Medical School determined that regular consumption of cranberry juice reduced the amount of bacteria in the urinary tracts of elderly women. Rather than acidification of the urine, these researchers concluded that something specific to the cranberry actually prevented bacteria from adhering to the lining of the bladder. In 1998, researchers from Rutgers University identified the specific components in cranberries that function as previously suggested. These condensed tannins or proanthocyanidins from the cranberry fruit prevent Escherichia coli (E.coli), the primary bacteria responsible for UTIs, from attaching to cells in the urinary tract. Thus, the bacteria are flushed from the tract rather than being allowed to adhere, grow and lead to infection.
A new landmark study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June of 2016 found that drinking an 8-ounce glass of cranberry juice a day reduces symptomatic UTIs by nearly 40% in women with recurrent UTIs, which suggests the reduction in the need for antibiotics. The study was conducted at Boston University in conjunction with Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. (http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160614005444/en/Landmark-Study-Suggests-Cranberries-Decrease-Antibiotics)
The Power of Proanthocyanidins (PACs)
Cranberries contain Proanthocyanidins, also known as PACs. PACs are unique bioactive compounds that are linked to a long list of health additives in cranberries. These benefits include:
- Reducing incidence of certain infections
- Promoting heart health
- Protecting the urinary tract
- Decreasing inflammation association with chronic disease and aging
- Supporting digestive health
Cranberries Extend to the Gut
A recent study titled Impact of Cranberries on Gut Microbiota and Cardiometabolic Health: Proceedings of the Cranberry Health Research Conference 2015 found that incorporating cranberries into a diet brings benefits to the gut.
The lead author of this publication, Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, states that “cranberry polyphenols may interact with other bioactive compounds in cranberries that could protect the gut microbiota, and provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions that benefit the cardiovascular system, metabolism, and immune function.” This interaction may help strengthen the gut to protect against infection.
Phytochemical and Antioxidants Attributes
In addition to their urinary tract health benefits, cranberries also contain Phytochemical that may assist in maintaining health. Scientists believe that it is the combined actions of many different phytochemicals that contribute to their overall effects, and cranberries are rich in these compounds. Some of these phytochemicals act as antioxidants, compounds that help neutralize harmful free radicals in the body. These antioxidants reduce oxidative damage to cells that can lead to cancer, heart disease, and other degenerative diseases.
For example, anthocyanins, compounds that give cranberries their red color, are powerful antioxidants that may be stronger than vitamin E. In addition, laboratory studies have shown that cranberry extract reduces oxidation of LDL-cholesterol (so-called “bad” cholesterol), an effect which research indicates may be important in maintaining a healthy heart. Thus, when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet containing a variety of foods, cranberries may provide positive health benefits.
For more information on the health and nutritional aspects of cranberries, please visit the Cranberry Institute, the industry leader in the coordination and cataloging of health research. (www.cranberryinstitute.org)