Cranberry: Battles Bacteria and Kills Cancer

Antioxidants, Flavonoids and Vitamin C in Tart Berries Pack a Healthy Punch

Cranberries on the bush. Photo © Keith Weller, USDA

Potent, pucker-inducing, and pretty, cranberries have been around the holiday table for about 400 years. Native Americans used crushed cranberries to preserve pemmican, a dried meat mixture that, thanks to the benzoic acid in the little red berries, stayed well preserved and palatable over the winter. Pilgrims served cranberries at the first Thanksgiving dinner, starting one of many traditions that we still practice today.

You may have tried cranberry juice and sauce, or snacked on the dried fruits. But after you learn how powerful these tart berries are, you may want to eat them all year long.

Brilliant Cranberries Fight Many Diseases
If you've ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), then you may have tried drinking the tart, astringent juice of the cranberry. Cranberries are high in anthocyanidins, a class of flavonoids that can help fight UTI by preventing E. coli from sticking to bladder cells. Next time you drink some cranberry juice, swish it around some. Cranberries have a compound that can reverse and slow the development of dental plaque and periodontal disease, and may reduce cavities by killing Streptococcus bacteria colonies. While you're chugging that ruby red juice, also remember that the flavonoids in cranberries help lower your LDL cholesterol. So they aid in preventing clogged arteries, chest pain, blood clots, and heart attacks.

Fresh cranberries have more antioxidants than any other fruit, which protects you against common conditions related to aging, including loss of coordination and neurological damage.

Future Variety of Cranberries More Effective
The USDA Agricultural Research Service is working on a new variety of cranberries.

They are taking the American cranberry and crossbreeding it with an Alaskan variety. American cranberries have anthocyanins that are 3% to 5% glucose-linked, but the crossbred plant will have anthocyanins that are 50% glucose-linked. This will boost their antioxidant power, and also make them easier to digest. Consuming products made from the new super cranberry will improve your health more quickly, since you'll be able to absorb the vitamin C, antioxidants, and anthocyanins very efficiently. These plants are still being grown and studied, so they can be cultivated on farms.

Cranberries Arrest Breast Cancer Cells
At Cornell University, researchers tested extracts from cranberries on human breast cancer cells; to see what effect they would have on cell proliferation. In small doses over 4 hours, some of the cancer cells began to die. When the dose of cranberry extract was increased for the same number of cancer cells, 25% more of those cells died. The researchers kept increasing the extract dose, and also the time that the cells were marinating in the extract. Larger doses and more time resulted in greater numbers of cancer cells dying at a fairly early stage in the natural life cycle of the cell.

Since there are many different types of breast cancer, it's unclear whether cranberry extracts would affect any case of breast cancer as effectively as these did in the lab studies. But taking advantage of the phenols, flavonoids, and anthocyanins in cranberries isn't a bad idea.

Healthiest Ways to Eat Cranberries
Use cranberries in sauce and chutney, with as little refined sugar as possible. Bake fresh, frozen or dried cranberries into bread, cookies, and pies. Try using natural sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, agave nectar) instead of refined white sugar to smooth out the tart taste of cranberries.

When you choose cranberry juice, read the label carefully and avoid mixtures that are loaded with high fructose corn syrup. And when your sweet tooth urges you to raid the candy jar, snack on a small handful of dried cranberries instead.

Cranberries - Beyond Pucker Power
The American Indians and the Pilgrims were on to a good thing in cranberries. The preservative, preventative, and antioxidant powers in cranberries may someday lead to powerful new drugs based on natural plant extracts that fight breast cancer. That makes them better than just a snack, a jellied sauce, or a bright string of red berries on a Christmas tree. Cranberries are one of the healthiest fruits you can eat. So pucker up!


Cancer Letters, Volume 241, Issue 1, Pages 124-134 (8 September 2006). Cranberry phytochemical extracts induce cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Jie Suna, Rui Hai Liu.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fruits and Vegetables Matter. Fruit of the Month: Cranberries.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. New Cranberry Packed with Health Features. Published: January 8, 2008.

Life Sciences. Volume 76, Issue 13, 11 February 2005, Pages 1465-1472. Human tumor cell growth inhibition by nontoxic anthocyanidins, the pigments in fruits and vegetables. Yanjun Zhang, Shaiju K. Vareed and Muraleedharan G. Nair.

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