What are Cranberries?
Cranberries are small, tart, ruby-red berries that are often used in desserts and holiday dinners. Rich in essential nutrients, cranberries contribute to the normal function of the immune system. As an excellent source of vitamin C, they help us keep coughs and colds at bay. Moreover, the historic uses of cranberries are rather extensive. As a staple for Native Americans, cranberries were harvested and used as natural remedies, foods and drinks. In fact, cranberries were also utilized medicinally as a ward against indigestion and as a poultice for wounds.
From regulating blood sugar to preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs), cranberries are multi-tasking masters of holistic health.
So how can these tiny berries keep you healthy?
Benefits of Cranberries
Rich in Antioxidants
Cranberries contain anthocyanins, which play a significant role in combating free radicals and oxidative stress. In other words, they influence the anti-inflammatory effects that regulate our immune responses (x).
Anthocyanin rich foods are beneficial to overall health because of those antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Since they have a wide range of biological activities, they defend against cancer, diabetes, support collagen production and enhance cardiovascular health.
Cranberries have high antioxidant properties, can inhibit the growth of bacteria and also aid in the prevention of urinary tract infections
(x, x). Other berries, like strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, contain antioxidants, fiber and other nutrients. However, cranberries are higher in antioxidants that many other fruits and berries.
May Prevent UTIs
Indeed, cranberries are revered for their ability to prevent and cure urinary tract infections. UTIs occur more often in women than in men. Usually caused by the E. coli bacteria, UTI symptoms include painful, frequent urination, stomach cramps and, in rare cases, blood in the urine. To treat UTIs, doctors prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria and clear up the infection. More importantly, though, cranberries prevent the adherence of bacteria to the bladder wall. The legend is true. Cranberry is ideal for women who suffer from frequent urinary tract infections.
As a well-known treatment for urinary tract infections, what is it that makes cranberries so effective in this regard? For one, they contain powerful antioxidants called proanthocyanidins, which may prevent bacteria from adhering to urinary tract walls (x). In one 12-month study of women with recurring UTIs, cranberries reduced the occurrence of UTIs by 35 percent (x). To clarify, cranberry may help prevent UTI symptoms by preventing bacteria from developing into an infection.
Promotes Heart Health
It is critically important to recognize cranberry’s effect on cardiovascular health. Incidentally, cranberries promote heart health and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (x, x, x). The nutrients contained in cranberries may reduce the risk of heart disease. Cranberries exert cholesterol benefits in various ways. Firstly, they prevent LDL from transforming into damaging lipid particle that invade artery walls. Secondly, due to the presence of polyhenols, the liver absorbs more blood cholesterol and promotes the excretion of this cholesterol into the gut in the form of bile. To put it another way, they boost good cholesterol levels.
Regulates Blood Sugar
Most fruits are very high in essential nutrients. In fact, they actually contain high amounts of sugar. Cranberries, however, contain high amounts of tannins which help regulate blood sugar control and keep glucose levels balanced (x).
Supplementing with cranberry extract has been shown to lower glucose levels and reverse insulin resistance in diabetic patients (x). The polyphenols in cranberries help regulate blood glucose levels for insulin responses (x).
Supports Dental Health
The anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory antioxidants contained in cranberries are beneficial to oral health as well. Incidentally, cranberries contain flavanoids that stop the formation of dental plaque and may help treat gum disease (x). Plaque buildup causes cavities and leads to tooth decay. As a matter of fact, cranberries stop acid production and actually block bacteria from sticking to your teeth, not to mention treat diseases like gingivitis (x).
Chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Cranberries contain anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventing properties, phytonutrients that reduce the risk of infection and compounds that block inflammatory cells (x). Most importantly, the anti-inflammatory potential of cranberry polyphenols ensures that viruses do not invade your blood cells and may help stop cancer cells form spreading throughout the body.
May Help Prevent Cancer
A diet rich in fiber lowers the risk of bowel, stomach and intestinal cancer. Studies suggest that the high fiber content in cranberries stops the growth and development of tumors in the colon and the rectum (x). Cranberries contain powerful compounds that fight inflammation in the intestinal tract that, left unchecked, can lead to cancer (x).
Slows Down the Aging Process
Rich in polyphenols and Vitamins C and E, cranberries help you to maintain a healthy complexion by minimizing the visible signs of aging, like fine lines, wrinkles and loss of elasticity. Polyphenols in cranberries promote collagen production which slows down the aging process (x). In summary, the high antioxidant content in cranberry is essential for protecting skin against damaging environmental stressors (x).
Protects Your Stomach From Ulcers
Research has shown that cranberries provide protection against ulcers and other digestive problems. The natural compounds, called proanthocyanidins, in cranberries prevent H. Pylori, the bacteria that causes ulcers, from sticking to the lining of the stomach (x). These properties lower the level of bacteria that cause stomach ulcers (x). Indeed, taking cranberry supplements can be effective for limiting and preventing peptic ulcer disease and gastric cancer.
Cranberry Extract Side Effects
The benefits of cranberry juice in relation to urinary tract health have been praised for generations. Moreover, it is a powerful supplement that supports digestive health and offers high levels of antioxidants, dietary fiber and vitamin C. More importantly, Cranberry extract powder contains a high concentration of the beneficial compounds of cranberries and has long been used to stave off UTIs. It is also a well-tolerated herbal supplement that provides a convenient way to get all the benefits cranberry juice has to offer without unnecessary sugars. Side effects may include diarrhea, upset stomach and an increased risk of kidney stones.
Cranberry extract is a highly beneficial supplement, but it does not replace the medical advice or treatment given by your doctor or healthcare professional. If you are pregnant or nursing, consult a physician first. Consult a physician if you have a history of kidney stones, cirrhosis or other liver disease. Most importantly, avoid cranberry extract if you have diabetes, a stomach disorder or are allergic to aspirin.
Cranberry Extract Dosage
For starters, you may take 400 milligrams (about 1/4 teaspoon) one to three times daily, or as directed by your physician. Cranberry extract is a highly versatile supplement. You can mix cranberry extract powder into smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal or simply sprinkle the powder into water or a fruit juice and mix thoroughly. Regardless of how it is prepared, cranberry extract is a great alternative to getting the benefits of cranberries without added sugars.
The Bottom Line
Supplementing with cranberry extract is beneficial to your overall health and well-being. Due to the high amounts of anthocyanins in cranberries, and a higher content of antioxidants than most other fruits, cranberry extract powder can enhance cardiovascular and digestive health, prevent urinary tract infections, increase collagen production and combat the visible signs of aging. Without a doubt, cranberries have demonstrated their ability to decrease symptoms of UTIs, however, there simply isn’t enough data to determine whether it can replace a visit to your doctor or the prescribed treatment for UTIs.
By: Amy Koller