Health Benefits of Cranberry: Extract, Vitamins and Juice

This article presents information about the health benefits of cranberry, its common names, uses, potential side effects, and resources for more information.

Cranberries are the fruit from a native plant in North America. These red berries are used in foods and in herbal products.

Common Names — cranberry, American cranberry, bog cranberry

Latin Name — Vaccinium macrocarpon

Using Cranberry for Health

Cranberries are tart red berries that can be eaten and used medicinally. Historically, cranberry fruits and leaves were used for treating wounds, urinary disorders, diarrhea, diabetes, stomach ailments, and liver problems.

Recently, cranberry products have also been used in the hope of preventing or treating urinary tract infections or Helicobacter pylori infections that can lead to stomach ulcers, or to prevent dental plaque.

Using cranberry can also act as a deodorizer for people that suffer from strong or odorous urine. Eating cranberries makes one’s urine more acidic, which creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria.

The Benefits of Cranberry

Cranberry is a good source of vitamin C and is also reported to have antioxidant and anticancer activity.

The compounds in cranberries include bioflavanoids, organic acids, carotenoids, and fiber.

Identified active phytochemicals in cranberries include proanthocyanidin oligomers, flavonol and anthocyanin glycosides and triterpenoids like ursolic acid, all of which have been found to inhibit cancer cell growth, either individually or in combination with one another.

How Is Cranberry Used

The berries are used to produce beverages and many other food products, as well as dietary supplements in the form of cranberry extract, teas, and cranberry vitamins in the form of capsules or tablets.

Cranberry Extract or Cranberry Vitamins?

The medicinal properties of cranberries can be obtained both from the whole fruit and from cranberry extracts. Cranberry doses usually range from 400-800 mg/day as a vitamin or extract or 8-16 fluid ounces of juice per day.

Cranberry Extract, usually made from cranberry powder, can be up to 20 times more concentrated than whole cranberries and doesn’t contain unnatural sweeteners like many juices.

The Science behind Cranberry

Some studies testing cranberry products for their ability to prevent urinary tract infections have shown promise. These studies have generally been small in size, and some were not randomized or controlled; therefore, the results are not conclusive.

Cranberry products have not been adequately tested to see if they can be used to help treat an existing urinary tract infection.

Research shows that components found in cranberry may prevent bacteria, such as E. coli, from clinging to the cells along the walls of the urinary tract and causing infection. However, the mechanism of action of cranberry is not fully understood.

NCCAM, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research are funding studies to understand cranberry home remedies and whether:

  • Cranberry can prevent urinary tract infection
  • Cranberry can prevent the formation of dental plaque

Side Effects and Cautions

Eating cranberry products in food appears to be safe, but drinking excessive amounts of juice could cause gastrointestinal upset or diarrhea.

Cranberry extract supplements are generally considered safe. However, anyone with a history of kidney stones should talk to a doctor before using cranberry extract as long-term use may increase one’s risk of developing a kidney stone.

People who think they have a urinary tract infection should see a health care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. Cranberry products (including cranberry extract and cranberry vitamins) should not be used to treat infection.

Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

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