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The Health Benefits of Cranberry

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This entry was posted on 6/4/2006 6:23 PM and is filed under Science,alternative medicine,Health.

As long ago as 1840, German doctors discovered that the urine of people who ate cranberries contained a chemical called hippuric acid. The doctors were researching the finding that these same people had a significantly lower incidence of urinary tract infections (UTIs) such as cystitis and pyelonephritis.

By the 1960s, when doctors were dispensing antibiotics like candy, the use of cranberries to counteract UTIs had fallen out of favor. Researchers claimed that tests showed the acidifying effect of cranberries and cranberry juice was inadequate to prevent infection.

However, as late as 1994, a Harvard University study involving 153 elderly women with repeated urinary tract infections showed that regular consumption of cranberry juice cocktail decreased the frequency of UTIs. In a clinical trial from Weber State University in Utah, a concentrated cranberry product in dehydrated, capsule form – equivalent to 12 to 16 six ounce glasses of cranberry juice a day – was found to be equally effective. Some health professionals recommend the capsules over cranberry juice because of the sugar content of cranberry cocktail and the unpalatable taste of the unsweetened juice.

For many years it was believed that cranberries prevented or cured urinary tract infections by acidifying the urine, thus creating an inhospitable environment for the Escherichia coli (E coli) bacteria usually responsible for UTIs.

However, a benchmark study by a team of scientists at Rutgers State University in New Jersey, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on October 6, 1998, disclosed that condensed tannins, called proanthocyanidins, are the compounds in cranberries responsible for preventing and treating UTIs. They work, not by making the urine more acid, but by preventing the bacteria from binding to the wall of the urinary tract. This non-adherence renders the bacteria harmless. The researchers used a process called bioassay-directed fractionation to isolate the compounds, a process that took almost five years to complete.

In addition to its principal role in combating urinary tract infections, researchers are finding that cranberries may also have broad-spectrum antibiotic value against E. coli and other harmful bacteria. In a study conducted at the University of California at Irvine, two batches of soy broth, one with cranberry juice concentrate and one without, were incubated for a 24-hour period. According to the research letter published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the broth containing the cranberry juice showed a significantly lower growth of bacteria than the one without.

Dentists in Israel report that cranberries and cranberry juice contain specific compounds that can block the formation of dental plaque and potentially lessen tooth decay and gum disease. Test tube research at the University of Wisconsin indicates that cranberry juice may help keep LDL cholesterol (the bad type of cholesterol) from oxidizing. If confirmed, the consumption of cranberries or cranberry juice will help prevent the build up of cholesterol plaque in arteries, the major cause of heart disease and stroke.

Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamins A and C and potassium. Although cranberry juice contains some tannins, it will not interfere with the absorption of minerals. Furthermore, some older people with too little stomach acid, or those taking acid suppressors, may find that their ability to absorb vitamin B12 is impaired. Cranberry juice appears to enhance the absorption of this important vitamin in such cases.

Recommended Dosage

Health professionals recommend one capsule or tablet of a concentrated cranberry juice extract (400mg) two to four times per day. Two to three large (16oz.) glasses of cranberry juice may also be taken, but avoid the highly sugared cranberry “cocktails.” It’s hard to drink too much cranberry juice. The only contraindication is that diarrhea may develop with a very high consumption, such as three to four liters per day.

If you prefer your medicine as food, try the following two recipes:

Herbal Cranberry Punch

  • 1 quart of unsweetened cranberry juice

  • 1 cup of fresh lemon balm leaves

  • ¼ cup of fresh lavender flowers (or 1 Tbsp. of dried)

  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken

  • 6 whole cloves

    Bring two and a half cups of water to the boil while adding the lemon balm, lavender, cinnamon and cloves. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and steep for another five minutes. Strain and combine with the cranberry juice in a pitcher. Add honey to taste as a sweetener. May be served cold or heated with more spices if desired as a mulled drink. May also be combined with other fruit juices for a variety of flavors.

    Cran-Apple Crisp

  • 4 organic apples, such as Gala, cored, peeled and diced

  • ½ cup of dried cranberries

  • ½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. of whole wheat flour

  • 1/3 cup of brown sugar

  • 2 Tbsp. of honey

  • Juice of ½ lemon

  • ½ cup of whole oats

  • ½ cup of ground almonds (other nuts may be substituted)

  • ½ cup of butter, melted.

    Combine the apples, cranberries, one Tbsp. of flour, honey and lemon juice and pour into a greased, eight-inch baking dish. In another bowl blend together the half-cup of flour, brown sugar, oats, nuts and butter. Pack this mixture over the fruit. Bake at 375ºF for about 45 minutes until the top is brown and crisp.

    Bruce Burnett is an award-winning writer, a chartered herbalist and author of HerbWise: growing cooking wellbeing

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