It is known that American Indians used cranberries to make poultices, a soft and moist adhesive mass spread on cloth and used to heal wounds. In addition, they enjoyed cooked cranberries sweetened with maple syrup or honey. When the colonists arrived, they also developed a taste for sweetened versions of these tart-flavored red berries.
By the beginning of the 18th century, the colonists were exporting cranberries to England. But, the history of cranberry cultivation changed forever in 1840 when a Massachusetts man observed that cranberries grew in abundance when the winds and tides filled his bog with sand. Bogs became the ideal medium for cranberry growth. It did not take long for cranberry cultivation to spread across the United States, especially in the states of Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. Even today, these states led by New Jersey are the largest producers world wide of cranberries in bulk.
Table of Contents
- What Makes A Cranberry Healthy?
- Urinary Tract Infections And Cranberries
- How do cranberries prevent these infections?
- Cardiovascular Health And The Nutritional Benefits Of Cranberries
- ULCER TREATMENT AND PREVENTION OF STOMACH CANCER
- Gum Health
- Cranberries For Patients With Type 2 Diabetes
What Makes A Cranberry Healthy?
Cranberries contain excellent amounts of vitamin C, and a very good amount of dietary fiber. They have good levels of manganese and vitamin K. Though probably best known for preventing and treating urinary tract infections, cranberries are thought to be useful for a number of other medical problems. Research has recently been done on their use in treating cardiovascular disease and ulcers. There has been a good deal of research on cranberries. It is time to review some of what the researchers have learned.
Urinary Tract Infections And Cranberries
In a study published in 2007 in Phytomedicine, researchers attempted to determine if treatment with cranberry extract could help 12 women, between the ages of 25 and 70, who had a history of a minimum of six urinary tract infections in the preceding year. For 12 weeks, the women took one 200-mg capsule of a concentrated cranberry extract standardized to 30 per cent phenolics twice each day. During the study, none of the women had a urinary tract infection. Two years later, eight of the 12 women who continued to take cranberry remained free of urinary infections. The researchers noted that, “A cranberry preparation with a high phenolic content may completely prevent a UTI [urinary tract infections] in women who are subject to recurrent infections.”
In a study published in 2009 in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, Scottish researchers compared the effectiveness of cranberry extract to a low dose of the antibiotic trimethoprim for preventing recurrent urinary infections in older women. The subjects consisted of 137 women who had two or more antibiotic-treated urinary tract infections during the previous year . For six months, the women took either 500 mg of cranberry extract or 100 mg of trimethoprim.
While more of the women taking cranberry extract developed a urinary tract infection, the amount of time before an infection occurred was about the same in the two groups-84.5 days for the women taking cranberry extract and 91 days for those on the antibiotic. But, while the cranberry extract had no side effects, people taking antibiotics for extended periods of time may experience side effects such as nausea, stomach upset, vomiting, sensitivity to sun, and/or a resistance to the medication.
How do cranberries prevent these infections?
Previously, it was thought that the levels of acidity in cranberries stopped the growth of bacteria. However, in a laboratory study published in 2009 in the Journal of Medicinal Food, researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, determined that it was not the acidity of the cranberries but, rather, chemicals in cranberries. About 85 percent of all urinary tract infections are caused by the adhesion of E. Coli bacteria to the cells lining the urinary tract.
The researchers determined that the proanthocyanidins contained in cranberries change the surface properties of the bacteria. Therefore, they are unable to cling to the urinary tract epithelial cells. Moreover, the effect may be reversed – “because bacteria that were regrown in cranberry-free medium regained their ability to attach to uroepithelial cells and their adhesion forces reverted to the values observed in the control condition.” Thus, when people stop their consumption of cranberries in food or supplementation, the urinary tract infections will likely return.
Cardiovascular Health And The Nutritional Benefits Of Cranberries
In a study published in 2006 in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers from Quebec investigated the effect of increasing daily doses of low-calorie cranberry juice cocktail on the plasma lipid levels of 30 abdominally obese men, with a mean age of 51. During three periods of four weeks, the men drank 125 ml/day, 250 ml/day, or 500 ml/day. No changes were noted in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. While the men’s levels of HDL (good) cholesterol did rise. The researchers concluded that cranberries and similar antioxidants such as flavonoids, may well be protective of cardiac health.
In a Finnish study published in 2008 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers asked 72 middle-aged “unmedicated” subjects with cardiovascular risk factors to consume moderate amounts of berry products (such as cranberries), or a control product, for eight weeks. The subjects with high baseline blood pressure showed a significant decrease in their systolic blood pressure. Furthermore, though the levels of cholesterol remained the same and the concentrations of serum HDL cholesterol increased significantly. More in the berry-eating group than in the control group. The researchers noted that the regular intake of ber ries “may play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.”
ULCER TREATMENT AND PREVENTION OF STOMACH CANCER
In a study published in 2007 in Molecular Nutrition And Food Research, Israeli researchers treated 177 patients with the Helicobacter Pylori bacteria, which causes ulcers and may be associated with stomach cancer, with the standard one week triple therapy-omeprazole, amoxicillin, and clarithromycin (O AC ). While taking this therapy, eighty-nine patients received cranberry juice twice daily and 88 received a placebo. At the end of the week, the patients stopped taking the OAC therapy. Then continued with the cranberry juice or placebo for another two weeks . Seven hundred twelve patients treated for pylori only with OAC served as an additional control group.
Initially, there did not appear to be a significant difference between the cranberry and placebo groups. Yet, when the data were analyzed according to gender, an important difference emerged. For females, the eradication r e was significantly higher in those drinking cranberry juice. No such differences were seen in males. The researchers concluded that, “the addition of cranberry to triple therapy improves the rate of H. pylori eradication in females.”
In a study published in 2007 in the Journal of Periodontal Research, researchers from Quebec learned that cranberry extract inhibited the action of enzymes that have been associated with periodontal (gum) disease. The researchers noted that their results, “suggest that cranberry compounds offer promising perspectives for the development of novel host-modulating strategies for an adjunctive treatment of periodontitis.” (Periodontitis is a serious gum infection that kills soft tissue and bones that support teeth.)
Cranberries For Patients With Type 2 Diabetes
In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind 12-week study published in 2008 in Diabetic Medicine, researchers enrolled 16 men and 14 women, with a mean age of about 65, who were taking oral glucose-lowering medication. The researchers, examined the effect that cranberry supplements would have on lipid profiles in patients. They determined that the people taking the cranberry supplements had reductions in total and LDL cholesterol levels. They also had improvements in their HDL (good) cholesterol ratios. At the same time, there was a “neutral effect on glycaemic control”. Should people eat cranberries, drink cranberry juice, and/or take supplements? For most people, they are a helpful addition to the diet. Be aware, cranberry products often contain fairly high amounts of sugar. It is best to select products with lower amounts or no added sugar.
By Myrna Chandler Goldstein, Mark Allan Goldstein