It's fair to say that cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) is an underrated medicinal herb. The fruit, of North American origin, was used hundreds of years ago to treat all sorts of health issues, including urinary, oral, and stomach infections. Although today's research shows most of these uses are scientifically valid, many people think of cranberries only as a festive fruit, to be eaten with turkey every holiday season and then ignored for another year. This is an unfortunate disregard of the fruit's medicinal properties and the benefits that increasing your cranberry consumption year-round could provide.
1. Cranberries Prevent Urinary Infections
It's no secret that cranberries are good for urinary health, but this is often understood in a generic, "just drink cranberry juice to get rid of cystitis" way. In fact, studies show it is doubtful that cranberry juice alone can actually treat urinary tract infections once they already started, but it can stop them from occurring in the first place by preventing bacteria that cause infections, such as E. coli, from attaching to the walls of the bladder and urinary tract.
2. Cranberries Boost Immunity
Cranberries contain high proportions of vitamin C and substances called proanthocyanidins, which have a boosting effect on the immune system. This way, cranberry consumption can make the body's defense system more prepared to fight against infections caused by opportunistic bacteria.
3. They Boost "Good" Cholesterol
Some studies have found that consuming cranberry juice boosts the absorption of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), also known as "good cholesterol" in the body, although research about why exactly this occurs is ongoing. HDL levels can minimize the effects of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or "bad cholesterol," which lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease.
4. Cranberries Reduce the Risk of Gum Disease
Cranberry juice inhibits bacteria from attaching itself to the tooth surface, which slows down the development of dental plaque. This can reduce the risk of gum disease, of which dental plaque is a major cause. In addition, their high vitamin C content can help the body's ability to repair damaged tissues, so cranberry juice can also aid the recovery of those affected by gingivitis.
5. They Prevent Stomach Ulcers
Stomach ulcers are usually caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria attaching themselves to the stomach walls. Cranberry juice inhibits the absorption of H. pylori into the stomach wall lining, thus preventing the occurrence of painful stomach ulcers.
6. Cranberries Are Versatile
Cranberries come in numerous forms, making it easy to find a way of increasing cranberry intake that matches personal taste. This fruit can be easily found - and enjoyed - dried, frozen, juiced, in blended teas, or in tablet, tonic, or concentrate form.
The slightly acidic flavor of cranberries means that most juices add extra sugar to make them more drinkable. Read the labels of juice cartons carefully before you buy them; look for brands with reduced or no added sugar. The tastiness and versatility of cranberries mean that increasing your intake will not be a chore. Drinking a glass of cranberry juice with breakfast, serving cranberry sauces with meat dishes, or tossing a handful of fresh cranberries through a savory salad for a zesty kick are all easy, enjoyable ways of boosting your intake.
Harvard Health Publications. (n.d.). Understanding Cholesterol: The Good, the Bad, and the Necessary. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Understanding_Cholesterol.htm
Harvard School of Public Health. (2014). Antioxidants: Beyond the hype. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2012). Cranberry. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/cranberry
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2013) Cranberry. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/cranberry
Yamanaka, A. et al. (2004). Inhibitory effects of cranberry juice on attachment of oral streptococci and biofilm formation. Oral microbiology and immunology, 19(3), 150-154. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15107065