The health benefits of cranberries have aroused a significant amount of interest among doctors, researchers and the media over the past few years. They have long been one of the best folk remedies for kidney and bladder infections, prompting scientists to begin research on the potential benefits as early as the 1930s.
Historical Benefits of the Cranberry
The Cranberry, Vaccinum macrocarpon, is an evergreen shrub that is native the the northern United States and Canada. It grows in the acidic mud of bogs and wetlands.
Native Americans used the cranberry in pemmican as well as eating it fresh. The leaves and bark were made into teas to be used as a sedative or to relieve pain. These early Americans made poultices from the berries for wounds. If a wound was infected, the cranberries were mixed with cornmeal and used as a cure for blood poisoning.
When the early European settlers arrived in North America they were introduced to the berry by the natives. The settlers began to use the cranberry for many ills, including:
- Appetite loss
- Blood disorders, such as anemia
- Digestive upsets
By the early 1800s whalers and other ships commonly carried the berries, high in vitamin C, on their voyages to prevent scurvy.
Cranberries: Health Benefits for Today
More and more researchers are finding that the cranberry is indeed an amazing fruit.
High in Antioxidants
The cranberry is high in antioxidants. Most of the antioxidants come from a substance called proanthocyanidins. These antioxidants find, and attach, to free radicals. Free radicals are particles in the body that contribute to aging, as well as many medical conditions.
Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals and may prevent the development of damage caused by them. Numerous studies have measured the amounts of antioxidants in the body before and after eating cranberries or drinking the juice. Each study has found that the antioxidant levels are significantly increased by the cranberries.
According to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, cranberries are helpful, not only in preventing cancer, but in treating it in its early stages. The bright, tangy berry has been shown to slow tumor growth as well.
Urinary Tract Infections
Cranberry has long been used to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs). The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that it is particularly effective in preventing UTIs of the bladder and urethra in women with recurring infections. The evidence does suggest, however, that the berry is less effective against an established infection so prevention is the key. If you have a tendency to get UTIs, talk to your health care provider about adding a small glass of cranberry juice or capsules to your diet on a daily basis.
There is ongoing research that cranberries can keep the bacteria that is thought to cause ulcers, Helicobacter pylori, from attaching to the stomach wall. Results with cranberry look promising.
Because of the antioxidants in cranberries, researchers feel that the berry may help to lower LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and reduce the potential for heart disease in some patients.
Always follow the instructions of your doctor. Generally the recommended dosages are:
- One 400 mg capsule of concentrated cranberry juice extract can be taken two times per day
- One pint of unsweetened juice drank throughout the day
- One teaspoon of cranberry tincture taken three times a day
Possible Side Effects of Cranberries
Cranberries contain chemicals called oxalates that contribute to the formation of kidney stones. If you drink large amounts (one quart or more) of cranberry juice regularly, or take concentrated supplements, you may increase your risk of kidney stones. This is especially true if you, or a blood relative, have had a history of this medical condition. On the other hand, there are researchers that believe that a moderate intake of cranberry juice will prevent kidney stones. Moderation, as always, is the key.
If you are taking warfarin, a blood thinner, it is important that you discuss the use of cranberry products with your physician or other health care provider. Some health care providers feel that cranberry interferes with the metabolization of warfarin, however, it should be noted that others do not. Follow your own doctor's advice.
Where to Buy Cranberry Supplements
You can buy cranberry supplements at most health food or natural foods stores locally, as well as at many pharmacies. Be sure to choose a high quality brand name that you trust such as:
- Gaia Herbs
- Natures Plus
- Nature Made
Online resources for these supplements are convenient and plentiful.
Organic Pharmacy carries hundreds of high quality, organic herbal and nutritional supplements. They use phone operators rather than computers in their customer service department which makes it easy to ask questions and get help.
iHerbs is an online store that has been in business since 1996. It carries over 600 high quality brands of herbs and supplements.
Lucky Vitamin Shop carries a large array of vitamins and nutritional supplements. Established in 2004, the company features high quality products at competitive prices.
Add Cranberry Daily for Optimum Health
A glass or two of cranberry juice each day, or a few dried cranberries added to your favorite muffin recipe can help your body stay at its healthiest. Knowing all about herbs and nutritional foods like cranberries can help to keep your medical costs down and your energy levels high.