Astonishing Benefits of Cranberries

Monday, August 18, 2014
By: Linda J Dobberstein, DC, DACBN, DCBCN

Cranberries are an amazing berry and should be considered a super food. Research presented in just the last year alone on what this little fruit offers is astonishing. The benefits that cranberries offer are far more than previously understood. No longer should cranberries be only relegated to urinary tract infection (UTI) support, a garnish dish at the Thanksgiving dinner table or the high sugar cocktail juice that your grandmother drinks. Amazing health benefits are wrapped up in this little berry.

Cranberry, Candida and Biofilms

Candida albicans is a fungus that is found in the human body. It is naturally present. However, candida can become a problem if it goes into a state of overgrowth and develops a stronghold. This is quite common in today’s society because of antibiotic usage, sugar intake, decreased intake of fermented or probiotic rich foods, high stress, steroids, and more. Stealth like defense shields or strongholds are built protecting the germ, especially if it has not been properly addressed early on. These shields allow the candida to hide behind a defense system that confuses the immune system and renders many treatments ineffective or significantly limited. This defense shield is called a biofilm or a germ gang.

Cranberries, a tannin rich food, contain natural antioxidants of proanthyocyanidins and polyphenols, which are comprised of repeating epicatechin units. These have a special linkage system that is unique only to cranberries. Cranberries get their unique blend of tartness from tannins, which are an astringent, bitter plant polyphenol, and the repeating epicatechins. This unique structure influences the biological activity and is a key reason for why cranberries prevent germ adhesion.

Dental Concerns

Candida is a known cause of biofilms in the mouth that cause periodontal disease. Research published earlier this spring showed that cranberry prevented candida biofilms from forming in the mouth. Intake of cranberry, even in low doses, prevented the adhesion of candida to the dental mucosal surface and inhibited biofilm formation.

Cranberry also offers protection against other dental hygiene concerns. Dental caries or cavities and plaque formation have been shown to be significantly helped or prevented with the use of cranberry extracts. Cranberry polyphenols have also been shown to deter oral cavity cancer and prevent the adherence of H pylori in the gastric mucosa. 

Urinary, Bladder and Prostate Support

Additional research showed that the proanthocyanidins found in cranberries prevented the adherence of candida and formation of biofilms in synthetic urine. While this study did not focus on natural human urine, this is wonderful news and certainly an incentive to try this natural compound with fungal or candida related urinary tract infections. Certainly the usage of cranberry extracts in prevention of bacterial UTIs has been proven over the years. This includes UTI bacterial infections with P-fimbricated E coli. Researchers demonstrated with certainty that cranberry leaf extract and juice improved antioxidant status and inhibited bacterial adhesions with E Coli.

It was also shown to be beneficial in men who have undergone radiation treatments for prostate cancer. Cranberry extract reduced bladder inflammation associated with the cancer radiation treatment. Men who took the cranberry extract found that there was significantly less pain or burning, better control, and stronger stream. While this study looks at bladder inflammation, cranberry extracts have been shown to positively affect human prostate cancer cells and reduce prostate cancer risk.

Influenza, Cholera, and Pseudomonas

In addition to bacteria and yeast, cranberry extract was also shown to combat the adherence and infectious capacity of the influenza virus A (H1N1 and H3N2 types) and B. Recall the H1N1 influenza scare as few years ago. Research done prior to this scare clearly showed that the active components in cranberry showed remarkable prevention or inhibition of the influenza virus from adhering to the cells. It also showed that if cells were infected with the virus, the active cranberry compounds reduced the total intensity of the infection. That information certainly did not make mainstream news compared to the high recommendation of the hyped up flu vaccine benefits.

Other research demonstrates the ability of cranberries or cranberry extract to enhance innate immunity against other types of infections. In fact, researchers studied cranberry extract against V. cholerae, more commonly known as cholera. Cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine that causes severe diarrhea and vomiting. It presents severe threats to public health across the world and is often deadly. In this study, researchers demonstrated that cranberry extract promoted innate immunity as well as inhibited the pathological intensity of cholera infection in a type of parasite. While this study is far from proving this benefit in humans, it does certainly lend credence to the power of cranberries.

Pseuodomonas aeruginosa is a bacteria that is a common cause of pneumonia. It can affect many other organs as well. It is especially dangerous in immune compromised individuals. It is the most common pathogen isolated from patients who have been hospitalized for more than one week. Researchers studied the effects of cranberry extracts against this virulent bacterium. They found that combining the antibiotic ciprofloxacin with cranberry extract 100% completely prevented the adhesion and invasion of P. aeruginosa in the surface of lung tissue compared to the controls, i.e. it stopped the onset of pneumonia. Without the cranberry extract, there was a higher need for increased antibiotic intake. This can result in increased potential for antibiotic resistance. So the next time that you or your loved ones end up facing hospitalization, order the cranberry juice on the menu with each meal, or better yet, load up on it with the sugar free cranberry extract in supplemental form.

In addition, cranberry extracts were found to improve T cell function and reduced the number of symptoms associated with cold and influenza activity. It was also shown to augment Natural Killer cell activity. In this study, one of the compounds found in cranberry flavonoids potentiated NK cells ability to actually kill certain leukemia cells. T-Cells and NK cells are some of the work-horses of the immune system that constantly survey the body and deal with insults and damage.

Metabolic Syndrome

If all of the oral hygiene, dental health, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal activity properties, and immune modulation were not enough to say wow, then consider some additional properties of cranberries. Research released just weeks ago, demonstrated in animal studies that cranberry extract protects, in numerous ways, against metabolic challenges. It did this in the context of a high fat and high sucrose diet, a.k.a table sugar, cane sugar, or beet sugar. The results showed that the cranberry extract stopped the high fat and high sugar weight gain and visceral obesity. It decreased stress on the liver caused by these types of foods and reduced triglyceride levels. It also improved insulin resistance, reduced intestinal inflammation and oxidative stress. Essentially, the little cranberry stopped diet-induced metabolic syndrome. Absolutely remarkable!

Safety

General dosages used in these studies occurred with relatively moderate intake of concentrated cranberry extract of 600-800 mg per day or 24 ounces of unsweetened cranberry juice per day. It is regarded as a safe, non-toxic food or extract even safe to use with pregnancy

The only potential drawback that was identified when writing this article was found with cranberries and the drug warfarin. Limited research concluded that cranberry and warfarin interactions were defined as highly probable as the cranberry may potentiate the effect of warfarin. Many of the disorders described in this article are common ailments found in the senior citizen population. It is often this same population who are put on warfarin or Coumadin as risk reduction for clots, etc. One could say that the consumer who consumed cranberries regularly in their diet, who was then put on warfarin, had an increase probability of serious bleeding risks – due to the warfarin. The viewpoint depends which end of the viewfinder one is looking through. Which one is it for you - the power packed cranberry or common medications that poison the elderly? If you are in this situation and choose to use cranberries or other viscosity reducing, anti-inflammatory nutrients along with prescription blood thinners, work with your health care provider for proper monitoring.

Given this plethora of information, how about introducing some organic cranberries into meal times, or if you have more significant concerns, go with sugar free standardized cranberry extracts. It is truly an underrated, amazing berry!

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