You probably know cranberry as a holiday staple. It’s lesser known for being a superfood packed with health-boosting compounds that protect your body from infections and degenerative diseases. Cranberries are rich in antioxidants known as polyphenols, and other healing properties such as salicylic acid and ursolic acid. They’re also a great source of vitamin C, B vitamins, and vitamin K, as well as potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. There’s no shortage of clinical evidence for the protective power of cranberries, as their effects have been studied extensively in both animals and humans.
1. Rich Source of Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is found in several fruits and vegetables, but cranberries contain particularly high amounts of it. Salicylic acid is an ingredient in aspirin due to its ability to reduce inflammation, thin the blood and prevent blood clotting. It’s also been found to have antitumor effects and help lower your risk for colon cancer.
2. Helps Prevents Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Cranberries have chemicals that prevent bacteria from sticking to the lining of your urinary tract, which is where they multiply and cause infection. However, they don’t kill or release existing bacteria. As a result, cranberry has been shown to be effective in preventing UTIs, but not necessarily in treating them.
In a clinical trial, women with recurring UTIs were given 200 mg of concentrated cranberry extract every day for 12 weeks. By the end of the trial, none of the women had contracted UTIs. After two years, women who continued taking cranberry extract continued to avoid infection. The study concluded that cranberry in concentrated form may completely prevent UTIs.
3. Helps Fights Colds and Flus
Cranberry is also a natural remedy for the common cold and seasonal influenza. Research shows it doesn’t reduce your risk of contracting an infection, but it can help reduce cold and flu symptoms. In one study, participants drank cranberry juice every day for ten weeks. Compared to a group given a placebo, these participants did not have reduced frequency of illness but had significantly reduced symptoms when they contracted infections. Researchers found that the cranberry juice had increased the number of gamma delta T-cells, which serve as the first line of defense in your immune system.
4. Helps Lowers Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Stroke
Cranberries are a rich source of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that helps protect your heart by reducing oxidative stress–a contributing factor in heart disease. In fact, cranberries have more polyphenols than apples, cherries, grapes, and blueberries.
In a clinical trial, one group of participants drank two glasses of cranberry juice per day for eight weeks, while another group drank a placebo. Tests were taken at the start and finish to measure blood pressure, glucose levels, cholesterol, triglycerides and C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation. Those who drank cranberry juice improved across all these risk factors, while the control group had no change. Researchers concluded that in this trial, cranberry juice lowered the risk for heart disease by 10 percent, and the risk of stroke by 15 percent.
5. Helps Prevents and Fights Stomach Ulcers
Stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria called H. pylori that infest the lining of your stomach. Just like cranberry is shown to have an anti-adhesive effect on bacteria that line the urinary tract, it also prevents H. pylori from sticking to the walls of your stomach.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Nutrition on children with H. pylori infections gave 200 mL of cranberry juice per day to one group, probiotics to another and nothing to a control group. After three weeks, the cranberry juice had eliminated significantly more H. pylori than the placebo, and slightly more than the probiotics. In another study, one cup of cranberry juice per day was shown to eradicate three times more H. pylori than a placebo drink.
Since cranberry is much safer than antibiotics, especially for long-term use, it may be a great alternative for people with recurring stomach ulcers.
6. Helps Boosts Memory and Reverses Cognitive Decline
The antioxidative properties in cranberries are shown to protect your brain from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress increases with age and is linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s. Another compound in cranberries that protects the brain is ursolic acid.
In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, researchers injected mice with domoic acid. This is a toxin that accumulates in marine life and is linked to short-term memory loss, learning problems and neurodegenerative diseases. When the mice were then injected with ursolic acid, found in cranberries, their memory loss was reversed. The researchers concluded ursolic acid may help prevent and reduce age-related cognitive decline and help with symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Cranberry: Pills, Extracts, and Juice
Cranberry juice is an enjoyable way to get a daily dose of cranberry. On the other hand, the health-promoting compounds of cranberries are what give them a particularly tart taste, which means cranberry juice is diluted and has a lot of added sugar. If you prefer to skip the “empty calories,” you might like cranberry pills. Most cranberry pills are made with 100 percent cranberry, so they’re more potent than cranberry juice. A third option is to take a cranberry extract as a tincture, which gives you a more concentrated liquid dose of cranberry.
Whichever method you choose, you’ll be giving your body a healthy boost thanks to the many nutrients and protective compounds found in cranberries.