Cranberry (the plant) is a shrub that grows in bogs cold regions which can reach up to 2 meters (7 ft) long and 5 to 20 centimeters (2 to 8 in) in height. The fruits are consumed and available in different forms: juice, sauce, jam, sweetened dried cranberries, and fresh to consumers.
The antioxidant compounds are more abundant when the cranberries are dried the fact the drying is linked to the concentration. However, both fresh and dried retain the same properties. Cranberries antioxidant capacity is well accepted by the scientific community. After blueberries, it would be the fruit with the highest antioxidant properties, with values greater than those of many fruits such as apples, red grapes, strawberries, grapefruit, and peach. In addition, cranberries are also rich in flavonoids and resveratrol.
Flavonoids – Cranberries contain different types of flavonoids, powerful antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals from the body and thus prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and various age-related disorders. The three main classes of flavonoids cranberries found in the fruit include anthocyanins, water-soluble vacuolar pigments which give the red color; flavonols, a non-nutrient, bioactive compound; and proanthocyanidins, very powerful antioxidants that help the body gets rid of harmful free oxygen radicals from cells, and prevent adhesion of E. coli bacteria causing infections of the urinary tract.
Resveratrol – Cranberry contains resveratrol, a polyphenol substance found also in red wine, peanuts and certain berries. Although the antioxidant activity of resveratrol in red wine is known to be health beneficial, little research on this active compound in cranberries have been made. But few studies show the concentration of resveratrol in cranberry juice would be comparable to that present in grape juice with similar benefits.
Ursolic Acid – This potent nutrient has many health benefits regardless used topically or internally. It has anti-inflammatory, antitumor and antimicrobial properties. Some small studies have shown that Ursolic acid inhibits the growth of Candida albicans, Microsporium lenosum, and cancer. This molecule would have a potential anti-cancer by inhibiting the proliferation of certain types of cancer cells such as liver cancer and breast cancer.
Cranberry and Cancer
Several epidemiological studies show that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of certain cancers. In vitro studies show that cranberry extracts and compounds can inhibit the growth and proliferation of different types of cancer including intestine, breast, colon, bladder, prostate, lung, and others.
Cranberry juice helps to fight bowel cancer according to a study conducted by Neto and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. In reaching this conclusion, they generated three extracts of cranberry powder. One consists of whole fruit, the other with only polyphenol (an antioxidant), and the third from all components of cranberries which are not polyphenols.
For 20 weeks, laboratory mice with colon cancers were separated into four groups. Each mouse in the first 3 groups had to drink a type of powder extract diluted in water once a day; the fourth group received no cranberry at all. Result? The cranberry-fed mice have seen the number of their tumors reduces to half unlike those who did not take anything. The remaining tumors in the mice that received cranberry were also smaller. The problem is the fact the researchers hoped that one of the three powders work better than others to validate the effectiveness of the fruit and identify the component most effective against cancer. But it was not the case. More research is now ongoing to shed more light on curative effects of cranberry on malignant tumors.
“Basically, what we found was pretty encouraging. All preparations were effective to some degree, but the whole cranberry extract was the most effective…There may be some synergy between polyphenol and non-polyphenol constituents”, says Neto.
Other Benefits of Cranberries
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) – Cranberry juice consumption or taking cranberry tablets would be particularly effective in preventing urinary tract infections. But as of today, there is no study that has demonstrated the consumption of juice or other cranberry products could cure UTI.
Gastrointestinal Disorders – Studies indicate that regular consumption of cranberry juice could prevent infection by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) in the stomach. This bacterium is a cause of many stomach problems, including chronic gastritis, duodenal and gastric ulcers. The addition of cranberry juice with a healthy diet, and possibly a conventional treatment would eradicate the bacteria more effectively.
Dental Problems – Consumption of cranberries and its various compounds reduce the formation of dental plaque, dental caries and periodontal disease. However, most commercial juices on the market have a high sugar content and high acidity which are not beneficial to oral health. The extract or fresh homemade juice is the ideal choice. Flavonols and proanthocyanidins cranberry extracts have been shown to inhibit the production of acid by bacteria involved in the development of dental caries (Streptococcus mutans) and reduce the formation of dental biofilm that causes dental plaque.
Cardiovascular Diseases – Several studies indicate that consumption of flavonoids in foods and beverages may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, the process leading to the onset of cardiovascular disease. In vitro research it shows that extracts of cranberry flavonoids prevent LDL oxidation (bad cholesterol) as well as blood platelet aggregation, markers related to cardiovascular disease. In the other hand, cranberry juice consumption would increase HDL (good cholesterol). Consumed at a rate of 500 ml (2 cups) per day, low calorie cranberry cocktail can significantly reduce blood pressure.
Neurological Disorders/Alzheimer’s disease – Cranberries, like blueberries, have been associated with protective effects of neurons (nerve cells), thus preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Studies in animals suggest that eating several small fruits daily could inhibit or reverse the loss of communication between brain cells. It also would prevent certain age-related impairments that may affect motor and cognitive functions. Moreover, fruit juice and vegetable consumption, especially extracts of cranberries, bilberries and blueberries may have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease.
References: American Chemical Society – Powdered cranberry combats colon cancer in mice