10 Little-Known Health Benefits of Cranberries
Cranberries grow wild in the USA and Canada, and have been used for centuries by Native Americans as both food and medicine. Early European explorers quickly learned of their health benefits and made them part of their diet. By 1850, European sailors were taking cranberries (which are rich in vitamin C) to avoid scurvy at sea. But it isn't the vitamin C that makes cranberries such a powerful super food: rather, it's the high content of proanthocyanidins (PACs). A single serving of these berries (as fresh) delivers about 400 mg of PACs—far more than any other berry except aronia. Other good dietary sources of PACs include nuts, legumes, apples, pears, grape seed extract, red wine, and dark chocolate. But the PACs in cranberries are quite unique due to their "A-type" structure, which endows this super fruit with many special health benefits. Here is what some of the latest research has found:
Bladder Infections—Prevention and Treatment: Yes, this is one very well known. But do you know the optimal dose? Up to one cup daily of cranberry juice gets mediocre results (32% less urinary tract infections, or UTIs) whereas two cups daily worth of juice in pill form (as freeze-dried powder) had the best results, reducing UTI risk by 62%. For reference, one cup of juice contains about 35 mg of PACs. And these PACs don't just suppress bacteria: Candida albicans and fungi are also strongly suppressed.
Cystitis Prevention in Cancer Patients: Cancer patients may be at particularly high risk for cystitis (bladder irritation / infection) due to their treatments which weaken their ability to fight off invading bacteria. Here again, cranberries can help. One clinical trial showed that prostate cancer patients being treated with radiation had 28% less risk of cystitis and 33% less risk of severe cystitis when taking cranberry pills containing 72 mg of PACs.
Cancer Prevention: All those PACs do much more than just fight bacteria. Multiple studies have shown that adults with the highest level of PACs in their diet have 65% less pancreatic cancer, 61% less breast cancer, 34% less endometrial cancer and 26% less colon cancer. And more specifically, the unique PACs from cranberries have been shown in lab studies to also suppress lung cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, throat cancer and gioblastoma, while whole berry extracts have powerfully suppressed prostate and breast cancer cells in lab studies.
Immune Support and Fighting the Common Cold: In a recent clinical trial, healthy adults consuming 450 ml daily of low calorie cranberry juice showed a remarkable 500% increase in T cell count after 10 weeks compared to placebo. The incidence of catching a cold was decreased by 32% (although not statistically significant) but more importantly the total reported cold and flu symptoms decreased by 16%, stomach upset dropped by 57% and total days missed at work or school dropped by 31%. As a further benefit, compounds from cranberries were also shown to suppress (in vitro) the bacteria that cause pneumonia.
Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance: Some very new research has shown that the phenolic compounds from cranberries (such as PACs) not only suppress fat storage in fat cells but even caused some fat cells to die outright. In living creatures, the same polyphenols were shown to suppress the accumulation of fat by up to 74% (in roundworms). Further research is needed to prove this out for humans, but note that researchers have already linked the consumption of other polyphenol-rich foods such as blueberries, nuts and apples to weight reduction in humans.
Cholesterol Levels in Patients with Type II Diabetes: 1500 mg of cranberry extract as pill after 12 weeks led to significantly lower total cholesterol, lower LDL cholesterol, and better HDL:LDL ratios in patients with type II diabetes. In the long term, this should significantly lower their risk for heart disease—and that's important for type II diabetics who have a much higher heart disease risk than healthy adults.
Blood Pressure Control: A clinical trial with healthy adults showed that 2 cups daily of low calorie cranberry juice significantly lowered diastolic blood pressure after 8 weeks.
Blood Sugar and Insulin Resistance: The same trial as above showed not only that drinking the low-calorie juice lowered fasting blood sugar, but also improved insulin resistance. This might offer protection against developing type II diabetes and very likely will protect against heart disease.
Inflammation Reduction: Chronic inflammation is something everyone should avoid. It's been linked to heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease and chronic pain. The liver makes C-reactive protein in response to inflammation, so the more inflammation you have, the higher your levels of C-reactive protein. Those two cups of low calorie cranberry juice that were so helpful in lowering blood pressure and blood sugar in that above clinical trial also lowered the study subjects' C-reactive protein (CRP). And that, in itself, is a very good thing. Other studies have shown that adults with higher CRP had 3-times the average risk of heart disease.
Tooth Decay and Oral Health: Those unique A-linked PACs that fight bacteria in bladder infections also seem to fight bacteria in the mouth with equal power. One study showed they slowed oral bacteria growth, inhibited the bacteria from attaching to tooth surfaces, and even reduced cavity formation (in mice). Researchers are now looking at these compounds to help fight periodontal disease.
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