You've probably heard about the benefits of cranberries from friends or family. In fact, Native Americans first recognized the powerful properties of the berry hundreds of year’s back — historical records from the 1600s show that the local Indian medicine men made cranberry poultices to draw poison from arrow wounds. The berries were also used in cooking and for treating other wounds. Cranberries are native to North America and are related to the blueberry family. The ruby red, tangy fruit is often made into a jelly or jam to accompany roast turkey.
Things have moved on a bit since then, and there seems to be much more to cranberry and health than just folklore. In the 1920s, scientists confirmed the merits of this folk law wisdom. They worked out that people who consumed a lot of cranberries produced purer, odor free urine. Drinking cranberry juice can block urinary infections by binding to bacteria so they can't stick to the urinary tact walls and spread infection. Women of all ages have found drinking cranberry juice helpful in the early stages of cystitis, but cranberry juice is good for men too.
Cranberries are full of antioxidants, which protect cells from damage by unstable molecules called free radicals. The US National Institute of Health is funding research into the cranberry's effects on heart disease, yeast infections and other conditions, and other researchers are investigating its potential against cancer, stroke and viral infections. A compound discovered in cranberries, proanthocyanidine, prevents plaque forming on teeth and it may also fight off the bacteria that cause gum disease. Mouthwashes containing proanthocyanidine are being developed to prevent periodontal disease.
Research suggests that in some people, regular cranberry juice consumption for months can kill the H. pylori bacteria, which can cause stomach cancer and ulcers.
Cranberries may also prevent tumors from growing rapidly or from starting in the first place. Preliminary research also shows that drinking cranberry juice daily may increase levels of HDL, or good cholesterol and reduce levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol.
Extracts of chemicals in cranberries have been found to prevent breast cancer cells from multiplying in a test tube; whether that would work in women is unknown. A major study found that elderly women prone to urinary tract infections who drank 300 ml of undiluted cranberry juice per day had lower levels of harmful bacteria in their urine.
Cranberry can be very helpful to people who experience embarrassing urinary incontinence as it helps to deodorize urine.
Because of the high vitamin C content of cranberries, captains of the early sailing ships supplied their sailors with cranberries to prevent scurvy.
To treat early mild symptoms of urinary infection, you need to drink 500 ml of cranberry juice, or take two 400 mg cranberry capsules twice a day. However, if you see no improvement within 24 to 36 hours, you must see your doctor, as cranberries are no substitute for antibiotics. For general health benefits, take one 400 mg capsule a day or a glass of good quality cranberry juice with breakfast, as it is also a great source of vitamin C. You may want to have sweetened juice, as it can taste very sour. Making cranberry jelly, sauce or jam is a great accompaniment to chicken or roast turkey.
For tea drinkers, having a daily cup of herbal cranberry tea will have many health benefits. Other nutrients, including vitamin A and potassium are also found in cranberries. Cranberries are also a good source of fiber.
If you have a medical condition, consult your doctor for advice before taking any supplement, as you may not need them.
I am 22 and have a very busy job with no time for cooking. Could you give me a list of supplements I should take?
A supplement has limitations and is not meant to replace the nutrients available from fresh food. Optimum health requires a wholesome lifestyle and a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, plus lots of water and exercise. You can also take a good quality multivitamin such as Permea Plus. For a free daily health tip, follow me on Twitter: “@AlvaCarpenter”