Research

Expert review ‘recognizes and acknowledges’ the multiple health benefits of ‘special’ cranberry

14-Nov-2013 - By Stephen DANIELLS
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The potential health benefits of North American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and its unique nutrition profile extend beyond reducing the risk of urinary tract infections to include multiples heart health activities and temper inflammation, says a new review.

Authored by ten experts in cranberry and health research, the Advances in Nutrition review is the most thorough and up-to-date review of the cranberry nutrition and human health research, and considered data from over 150 published research studies.

Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, FASN, FACN, CNS, Director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory and Professor in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and lead author of the study, said: “Hundreds of studies show that the bioactive compounds found in cranberries improve health. For example, the polyphenols found in cranberries have been shown to promote a healthy urinary tract and exert protective benefits for cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.”

‘Recognition and acknowledgement’

Amy Howell, PhD, associate research scientist at the Marucci Center for Blueberry Cranberry Research at Rutgers University and co-author of the new review, told NutraIngredients-USA that the most important outcome of the review is the recognition and acknowledgement that cranberry products represent a rich source of phenolic bioactives with wide-reaching health benefits.

“Cranberries offer a unique nutrition profile and their value cannot be replaced by other berries, dried fruits or juices,” she said.

“Observational and clinical studies have prompted considerable interest in cranberry products, including cranberry juice cocktail, dried cranberries, fresh or frozen, and powdered or supplements, because cranberries contain a unique bioactive compound.  Cranberries are a rich source of the polyphenol, proanthocyanidin (PAC), but cranberries contain A-type PACs, opposed to the B-type found in other fruits.  This A-type PAC distinguishes cranberries from other berries and appears to be responsible for the anti-adhesion benefits that help maintain a healthy urinary tract and can prohibit certain other pathogenic bacteria from attaching to cells in the body. 

“Human studies on the health effects of cranberry products have primarily focused on urinary tract health and cardiovascular disease, with some attention being given to oral health and gastrointestinal epithelia. 

“While the role of cranberries in overall health continues to grow, decreasing the recurrence of UTIs remains an important public health concern as this nutritional approach could lower the use of low-dose antibiotics for prevention, as well as reduce overall need for antibiotics for treatment and the consequent development of resistance to these drugs,” added Dr Howell.

UTIs and beyond

Cranberry is most often associated with urinary tract health. In 2004 France became the first country to approve a health claim for the North American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) with at least 36mg of proanthocyanidins (PAC) to “help reduce the adhesion of certain E. coli bacteria to the urinary tract walls”, and subsequently fight urinary tract infections (UTIs).

The new review shows that cranberry may also have cardiovascular benefits, with the berry reported to improve blood cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, inflammation and oxidative stress. Cranberries have been shown to help support endothelial function and reduce arterial stiffness.

“While we look forward to more research to better understand how cranberries affect our well-being and longevity, we know that including cranberries and cranberry products in a healthy diet is a great way to increase fruit intake,” said Dr. Blumberg. 

The review was authored by experts from Tufts University, Pennsylvania State University, Boston University, Rutgers University, French National Institute for Agricultural Research, University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and Heinrich-Heine-University in Germany.

The Cranberry Institute provided support for the research article.

Source: Advances in Nutrition
Volume 4, Pages 618-632, doi: 10.3945/an.113.004473
“Cranberries and Their Bioactive Constituents in Human Health”
Authors: J.B. Blumberg, T.A. Camesano, A. Cassidy, P. Kris-Etherton, A. Howell, et al. 

Related topics: Research, Polyphenols, Cardiovascular health, Women's health