Cranberries are among the top foods with proven health benefits, according to Amy Howell, a researcher at Rutgers University.
Cranberries are full of antioxidants, which protects cells from damage by unstable molecules called free radicals.
The National Institutes of Health is funding research on the cranberry’s effects on heart disease, yeast infections and other conditions, and other researchers are investigating its potential against cancer, stroke and viral infections.
So far, research has found:
- Drinking cranberry juice can block urinary infections by binding to bacteria so they can’t adhere to cell walls. While women often drink unsweetened cranberry juice to treat an infection, there’s no hard evidence that works.
- A compound Howell discovered in cranberries, proanthocyanidine, prevents plaque formation on teeth; mouthwashes containing it are being developed to prevent periodontal disease.
- In some people, regular cranberry juice consumption for months can kill the H. pylori bacteria, which can cause stomach cancer and ulcers.
Preliminary research also shows:
- Drinking cranberry juice daily may increase levels of HDL, or good cholesterol and reduce levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol.
- Cranberries may prevent tumors from growing rapidly or starting in the first place.
- Extracts of chemicals in cranberries prevent breast cancer cells from multiplying in a test tube; whether that would work in women is unknown.
Cranberry juice has evolved, much like Aloe vera, as a quintessential American folk remedy; so well-known as a cure for urinary infections that it prompted scientists to begin to investigate its value more than seventy years ago. Recent studies have shown it can reduce the ability of E. coli to adhere to the lining of the bladder and urethra, reducing the potential for urinary tract infections (UTIs). Cranberries are also high in antioxidants and contain a potent vasodilator.
Cranberry’s medicinal properties have been recognised for centuries. Native Americans used raw cranberries as a wound dressing. Early settlers from England learned to use the berry both raw and cooked for a number of ailments including appetite loss, digestive problems, blood disorders, and scurvy (vitamin C deficiency that causes weakness, gum disease, and spontaneous bleeding in the skin).
The cranberry fruit is high in antioxidants, partly from substances called proanthocyanidins. Antioxidants scavenge damaging particles in the body known as free radicals. Environmental toxins (including ultraviolet light, radiation, cigarette smoking, and air pollution) can increase the number of free radicals in the body, which are believed to contribute to the aging process as well as the development of a number of health problems such as heart disease, cancer, and infections. Antioxidants can neutralise free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause. Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C as well, another important antioxidant. The juice is excellent against scurvy and to allay fevers. Cranberries also contain a potent vasodilator and have been used for breathing problems.
Several studies have measured high levels of antioxidants in people after drinking cranberry juice. Research is underway to determine if the antioxidant ability of cranberries will translate into protection from heart disease. Adding to cranberry’s potential health benefits, a recent study found that an extract of cranberry inhibited an enzyme associated with a reduction in cancer risk.
In the early 1920s, American scientists discovered that people who eat large amounts of cranberries have more acid in their urine than those who do not eat high amounts of the berry. Because bacteria cannot survive in an acidic environment, the researchers speculated that a diet rich in cranberries may help prevent and treat urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are commonly caused by bacteria known as Escherichia coli. In time, the popularity of cranberry for UTIs soared and many women reported satisfactory results from drinking cranberry juice.