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Cranberries - The Health Benefits

  • May 11, 2016 1:44 PM EDT

    In this week's Specialty Update we discuss findings from a recently published study that examined the role of nutrition in the management of disease.

    The benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables and their impact on human health are well established. Consumption correlates with improved cardiovascular health and a reduction in the risk for a variety of conditions including cancer and age-related degenerative diseases. 

    One fruit that imparts health benefits to humans is the cranberry. Specifically, cranberry extract has been shown to prevent urinary tract infection (UTI)  in women. Until recently, the effects of cranberries on urinary tract health in dogs was unknown. Learn about the Effects of Cranberry in Dogs with Recurrent UTI.

    The American Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) has a number of beneficial constituents or phytochemicals. 

    "The exact mechanisms of phytochemical action remain largely unexplained and are currently the subject of much speculation and research."
     

    PHYTOCHEMICALS: CRANBERRIES / CRANBERRY PRODUCTS 

    As of 2009, about 150 different phytochemicals have been identified and studied. Knowledge base is growing with much more research to be done.

     

    Flavonoids -- Most dominant component.

    • Anthocyanins. Example is peonidin. Cause bright red color. Most studied component; at least 13 have been identified. Strong antioxidants.

    –  Potential health benefits: Anticancer (AC), Antioxidant (AOX), Neural Function Protection (NFP), and Cardiovasular Health Benefits (CHB)

    • Flavonols (catechins). Example is quercetin. Cause yellowish pigments and AOX stabilizer. Cranberry flavonols are unique and present in high concentrations that are considered most significant to effects on health.

    –  Potential health benefits: AC, AOX, Anti-inflammatory (AI), CHB

    • Proanthocyanidins. Also called condensed tannins. Causes astringent flavors and AOX stabilizer. Research is in early stages.

    –  Potential health benefits: Anti-adhesion toward bacteria (AA), AOX, Antiulcer (AU), Antiadhesion towards viral pathogens (AV), CHB, NFP

    • Polymeric Color Compounds. Cause red-brown pigment. Strong AOX activity but poorly understood

    –  Potential health benefits: Unclear. Possibly, AOX, AA, AV

     

    Non-Flavonoids 

    • Non-Flavonoid Polyphenols. AOX stabilizer; astringent flavors. Best known is bioactive stilbene, reservatrol; however, more research needed.

    –  Potential health benefits: AC, AI, AOX

    • Simple Phenolics & Benzoates. An example is salicylic acid. Cause aroma. AOX stabilizer

    –  Potential health benefits: AC, AI, AOX, CHB

     

    Non-Phenols

    • Non-Aromatic Organic Acids. An example is ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Causes sour flavors.

    –  Potential health benefits: AC, AOX

    • Complex Carbohydrates. An example is pectin. Causes gelation and edible films.

    –  Potential health benefits: AC, AOX

    • Sugars. An example is fructose. Causes sweet flavors.

    –  Potential health benefits: AA, AC

     

    Terpenes, Sterols, and Terpene Derivatives 

    • Terpenes / Terpene Derivatives. Example is ursolic acid. Cause much of the flavor and aroma.

    –  Potential health benefits: AC (ursolic acid). Research ongoing

    • Sterols. Widely distributed in plants. Thought to contribute to health effects. Research ongoing. 

     

    * AA = Antiadhesion towards bacteria, AC = Anticancer, AI = Anti-inflammatory, AOX = Antioxidant, AU = Antiulcer, AV = Antiadhesion towards viral pathogens, CHB = Cardiovasular health benefits, NFP = Neural Function Protection.

     

    HEALTH BENEFITS OF CRANBERRIES / CRANBERRY PRODUCTS

    Antipathogenic Effects

    • Prevention of urinary tract infections (eg, prevents bacterial adhesion to epithelial cells in urinary tract)
    • Cleareance of pathogens in the stomach (eg, H. pylori)
    • Possible suppression of in vitro viral infection (eg, infectivity of influenza virus A subtypes and influenza virus B in red blood cells)
    • Disrupts formation of oral biofilm and pathogen virulence (eg, prevention of cavities and periodontal disease by sugar-free product)

    Disease Inhibition / Progression Effects

    • Alzheimer's disease development and neural degeneration (eg, possible inhibition of amyloid accumulation and free radical formation particularly by polyphenols)
    • Cardiovascular health benefits (eg, inhibit LDL oxidation, lowered levels of plasma adhesion molecules)
    • Cancer prevention / inhibition (eg, in vitro evidence of suppressed proliferation of pancreatic, colon, breast, and leukemia cancer cells by quercetin; inhibited cell growth of breast, colon, cervical, prostate, leukemia cells by ursolic acid derivitives. In vivo in humans, low-dose aspirin [salicylic acid] decreased precancerous colon adenocarcinomas)
    • Modulates inflammatory responses (eg, anthocyanins and hydroxycinnamic acids in cranberries reduced inflammation response in human microvascular endothelial cells)

     

    Source: E. PAPPAS and K. M. SCHAICH. Phytochemicals of Cranberries and Cranberry Products: Characterization, Potential Health Effects, and Processing Stability - Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 49:741–781 (2009).