Cranberry juice – how healthy is it really?
Cranberries are low calorie and packed with nutrients like Vitamin C, fibre and minerals like manganese. The shiny little berries are also antioxidant-rich – they contain five times the antioxidant content of broccoli – so it seems logical we might want to put them at the top of the fruit bowl.
Similarly, cranberry juice is associated with multiple health benefits. But there comes a point in any superfood’s life in the public eye when its reputation as a magic potion for multiple ailments takes on a life of its own (see the current obsession with tumeric). Let’s sort fact from fiction and ask: are cranberries really as healthy as you’ve heard?
Around half of all women will get a urinary tract infection during their lifetime, according to the World Health Organisation, and up to a quarter of them will have a recurrence within six months.
Typically you treat UTIs like cystitis – which can affect your bladder, urethra or kidneys – with antibiotics and you’ll hopefully start to see an improvement around the fifth day mark.
But another oft-touted remedy is cranberry juice. It’s said glugging down a glass of it will sort your painful problem swiftly. This widely adopted home remedy is thought to BEEN have started by the Native Americans – but does it work?
“Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins, a compound commonly found in plants,” nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert explains.
“It’s believed this compound can help prevent UTIs by stopping bacteria, like E coli, from attaching itself to the lining of the urinary tract.”
However, research around the effectiveness of cranberries was mixed. A review from the Cochrane Collaboration into the prevention of UTIs looked at 24 different studies (involving 4,473 participants) and compared various different cranberry related products, including fruit juice, with either a placebo or no treatment at all.
The study’s researchers concede there was a small improvement in the individuals taking cranberry products (like tablets or capsules) compared to the other two groups, but it wasn’t significant.
If you’re still keen to hit the carton, just be realistic, advises Lambert: “Ultimately, if you want to try it there’s no harm but don’t expect a miracle.”
Improving heart health
Researchers have long suspected the diminutive berry could help minimise the likelihood of heart disease. A supposed benefit of the antioxidant-rich juice is that it’s thought to improve cholesterol levels, which help to fight heart disease.
“Polyphenols are antioxidants found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, including cranberries, grapes, blueberries and aubergines,” says Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation. “Polyphenol-rich foods have been associated with a lower risk of heart and circulatory disease.”
One study by the University of Scranton in the US found drinking up to three glasses of juice a day could reduce the risk of different cardiac conditions by up to 40%. The study involved 19 participants (all of whom had previously been diagnosed with high cholesterol) who were given one glass of juice to drink every day for the first month of the study, two glasses for a second month and three glasses for the final month. After three months, the group was measured and found that the levels of high-density lipoprotein, known as good cholesterol, had increased by 10% on average after the consumption of three glasses of juice.
But be cautious if you’re taking certain medicine, like warfarin, as cranberry juice can interact with it.
Stopping tooth decay
Another benefit of cranberries is that they can help prevent bacteria from sticking to our pearly whites via the polyphenols found in them.
Researchers at the Centre for Oral Biology and Eastman Department of Dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Centre discovered the berry might help protect teeth against cavities and tooth decay largely caused by the microbe Streptococcus mutans.
“Something in the cranberry juice disarms the pathogens that cause tooth decay,” oral biologist Hyun Koo and leader of the study’s team said. – The Telegraph