Holistic practitioners have long extolled the virtues of cranberry juice for overcoming urinary tract infections (see Alternative Medicine Chest in the January 2007 issue), and in recent years, researchers have identified proanthocyanidins (PACs) as some of the berry’s more important health-promoting constituents. The berries also pack more antioxidants than grapes. Because they are so tart, however, the juice needs diluting and sweetening to make it palatable—and that drops it to second place among the high-powered antioxidant fruits. With more research afoot on the fruit’s effect on heart disease, viral infections, cancer, and stroke, it’s becoming clear the lowly cranberry ranks near the top of the healthy-food pyramid. Here are more reasons to add the juice or berries to your shopping list:
•• By making the stomach more acidic, cranberry juice helps the body destroy Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes ulcers and, eventually, stomach cancer. Its PACs stop the bacterium from setting up shop on the stomach wall. How much juice does it take? Researchers in China got significantly positive effects from two 250 ml juice boxes of cranberry juice a day for 90 days.
•• A study in Caries Research found that a 25 percent solution of unsweetened cranberry juice prevents the formation of plaque, the gooey substance that can coat teeth and provide a home for Streptococcus mutans, the primary tooth decay bacterium. More recently, researchers in Canada found that compounds in unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate had the same effect on Porphyromonas gingivalis, a major cause of periodontitis, a disease that attacks the gums and tissues supporting our teeth.
•• Drinking one to three cups of cranberry juice daily can raise high-density lipoprotein levels (HDL)—the “good” cholesterol—as much as 10 percent. Studies have shown a 10-point increase in HDL can translate into a 40 percent drop in one’s risk of getting heart disease.
•• Numerous studies indicate that, at least in vitro, the phytochemical elements in cranberries inhibit the growth of some types of human cancer cells and induce apoptosis, a form of cell death—without harming healthy cells. Researchers at Cornell University showed that apoptosis in breast cancer cells was dose-dependent —that is, more cells died as the amount of cranberry extracts increased. A second study found PACs inhibited growth of “lung tumors and colon and leukemia cells in vitro,” again without inhibiting normal mouse cells.
Most of these studies occurred in vitro, so the researchers didn’t worry about whether anyone could actually drink unsweetened cranberry juice. If you want the protection seemingly offered by cranberry juice but are concerned about the sugar sweetening it, another study found no difference in HDL-boosting power between sugared or sugar-free cranberry juice cocktail.