Cranberries hold a near legendary status as the cure to everything from the common cold, to being a magic berry that can cure all forms of cancer. Despite the credo that we should all wake to a fresh glass of orange juice every day or have an orange or grapefruit for breakfast, cranberries and cranberry juice are far superior to either when it comes to the hefty antioxidant punch they offer the entire body.
If you’ve ever driven through any of the more Northern states with sandy bogs and marshes throughout them like Massachusetts, Washington, New Jersey, Oregon – you’ve likely noted that all have their share of cranberry bogs where the fruit is harvested.
Keep reading to learn everything and anything about the incredible health-boosting benefits offered by the cranberry fruit.
Great Source of Important Phytonutrients
This is a group of a special class of nutrients known for an array of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting benefits when consumed in ample doses. They rarely get the fanfare they deserve when it comes to dietary recommendations and disease prevention. Failure to get enough of these micronutrients in your diet can have marked negative effects on long term heath.
The phytonutrient composition of cranberries make for a rather large list:
• Phenolic acids: hydroxycinnamic, caffeic, coumaric, and ferulic acid.
• Flavonols: namely epicatechin.
• Anthocyanins: cyanidin, malvadin and peonidin.
• Flavonoids: quercetin, myricetin, and kaempferol.
• Triterpenoid: mostly ursolic acid.
Let’s take a look now at the other proven benefits that come from regular consumption of cranberries and cranberry supplements.
Top 5 Cranberry Supplements
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Cranberry Health Benefits:
This is by no means an entirely complete list of everything this wonderful little berry can do for you. However, I think I’ve hit on all the high points. Keep in mind that they are steeped in folklore for the health benefits early settlers felt they got from them.
It’s believed that natives first introduced the berry to European settlers. At this time scurvy, caused by vitamin C deficiency, was a major problem. To them, vitamin C packed cranberries probably did seem like magic on the vine to many of these sea-weary and sick settlers.
1.Potent Antioxidant Profile
Two of the most important antioxidants in cranberries are vitamin C and epicatechin (source). Vitamin C is a short lasting water soluble antioxidant with the weight of your health leaning heavily on its molecular shoulders. It plays a huge part in defending against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides – one of the factors that eventually lead to heart disease. Also, without it, man would cease to stand upright and would literally fall over. It’s used in the process of making collogen; the protein that makes up our skin and connective tissue.
Epicatechin is a little miracle phytonutrient that’s been studied at length over the last decade or so. It plays an equal role to vitamin C in the bloodstream, neutralizing free radicals before they damage lipids and platelets causing them to stick to arterial walls. Epicatechin also causes nitric oxide to be released, which allows for more supple, flexible blood vessels. It’s also been shown in some studies to mimic insulin, thus perhaps helping to control blood sugars better.
2.Improved Liver Function
Our poor liver is the ultimate multi-tasker, performing any one of 400 jobs (most simultaneously) at any given time during the day. One of its many, and hardest jobs is to detoxify the body. Everything from unknown chemicals in the air, to alcohol, drugs – etc – all play a role in tiring out the liver and making it less efficient than it should be.
The main benefit to the liver when you consume cranberry juice or concentrates is the high levels of vitamin C they contain, which helps to stimulate glutathione which is the most critical antioxidant it uses to cleanse the blood. Like most antioxidants, it works like any chelating agent does, allowing toxins and heavy metals to bind to it and be ushered out of the body without causing free radical damage.
The heart and circulatory system are constantly under attack largely because of our diet and surrounding environment. There are two major cardiovascular problems that the ingredients in cranberries can help with: maintaining high antioxidant levels, and balancing cholesterol. And help it does – big time!
When oxidation occurs in the blood it happens to the cells on the surface of our arteries and to the LDL (bad) cholesterol and other lipids floating around in the blood. The surface of the arteries become inflamed and attract oxidized cholesterol and triglycerides to stick to them – both processes resulting from unchecked oxidation.
The problem is furthered when blood platelets and calcium begin to stick to the surface of this oxidized material. A study out of the University of Scranton Pennsylvania showed very promising results when they discovered that consuming three glasses a day of the juice led to up to a 10% increase in serum HDL (good) cholesterol in those tested (source). HDL’s main job is to remove LDL from our blood so it doesn’t oxidize and cause heart disease down the road.
Much like heart disease, oxidation is one of the key factors that leads to the cell mutation that results in cancer. Currently, cranberries are on the cusp of being researched heavily for their ability to fight cancer cells. Not just prevent mind you, as any antioxidant can do, but actually in halting the proliferation of cells once they’re formed (source). Check out the video in this link, by Dr. Michael Greger, discussing the effect the phytonutrients in cranberries have on cancer cells of all kinds.
5.Better Digestive Function
There are many synergistic ingredients in cranberries that work together to improve health. The proanthocyanins appear to offer the most benefit to the digestive system though. They have the very distinct task of preventing bacteria from growing and forming huge clusters in the stomach and urinary tract. This bacterial overgrowth is what causes urinary tract infections and ulcers caused by overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori in the stomach lining.
If you’ve already done your research, you might have stumbled on to the fact that cranberries may just be the cure for type II diabetes. The research studies behind this claim really don’t have any substance to them to be believable. And have only been performed using the high sugar juice which is particularly bad for any diabetic, not the supplement form which rarely contains any sugar at all.
7.Improved Bone Strength
There are several trace minerals in cranberries that help us build strong bones and teeth including: calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, vitamins E and K, and zinc. Each of these nutrients are helpful at growing and maintaining bones, however, you’d have to eat a crap-load of berries to get your daily values for any of these nutrients.
Cranberry extracts can be taken at a rate of anywhere from 250 – 10,000mg for supplemental use in lowering cholesterol and blood sugar, improving liver function, and getting those mega doses of antioxidants most of you will be looking for.
The reason for the huge disparity in the range is that while lots of clinical trials have been performed, there has been no real conclusions as to which dose offers the best benefits.
Just a daily 10-ounce glass of double or triple strength cranberry juice has been shown to help prevent and treat people with occasional and chronic bladder infections. Another study from 2008 concluded that 500mg of an extract daily was just as effective as antibiotics at preventing recurrent urinary tract infections (study).
Like so many of these potent superfoods, there is still much research that needs to be done before a set dosage is released. Provided you don’t fall into any of the risk categories listed further down the page, there are no known problems with taking large doses of the supplements.
The juice, on the other hand, is very high in sugar at 31g per 8-ounce cup. I’d recommended eating a handful of the actual fruit for an occasional boost once in a while, and perhaps taking a sugar free cranberry extract supplement like those listed in the top 5 further down.
Like so many superfoods, cranberry is a known inhibitor of a critical enzyme that removes Warfarin from the blood called CYP2C9. This enzyme breaks down Warfarin and gets it out of the body so levels don’t become toxic.
Under most circumstances, CYP2C9 is marvelously efficient, but excessive amounts of cranberry can effect its function. “Can” being the operative word. Despite this warning, recent studies have shown that a dose of up to 26-ounces of double-strength cranberry juice had no effect on CYP2C9 function in people taking Warfarin.
The easy advice is to avoid mixing Warfarin or any other drug that relies on CYP2C9 to metabolize in the body with cranberry. Ask your doctor if you want to drink large amounts of the juice or take cranberry supplements.
Avoid Excessive Cranberry if You’re Prone to Kidney Stones:
Cranberries contain larger amounts of oxalic acid, common in smaller amounts in most fruits, veggies and grains. Oxalic acid can cause the formation of kidney stones in people who’re prone to them. Oxalates can bind to uric acid and calcium in the urinary tract and cause an outbreak of this very painful condition.
Cranberry Supplement Reviews
To be clear, I personally recommend getting most of the benefits offered by this berry in the form of a concentrated supplement, due to its high sugar and calorie levels. But that’s just one Paleo guy’s opinion. When taken in supplement form, the daily value of vitamin C alone can be upwards of 400%.
Nature’s Bounty Cranberry Fruit 4200mg/ Plus Vitamin C
This battle-tested cranberry supplement from Nature’s Bounty gets the seal of approval from everyone who tries it. It contains a potent 50:1 concentrated cranberry extract and they claim their extraction process leaves this finished product just as fresh and loaded with antioxidants as a freshly-riped berry would be. Pretty bold claims, but with over 4200mg of extract per gelcap, you know you’re giving your body the biggest health boost possible with these little, easy-to-swallow softgels. The gels are a bit on the larger side, as one would expect with such a high dose of nutrients.
NOW Foods Cranberry Caps
Now Foods always makes quality supplements. They source all their cranberry stock from the highest quality growers, and never use nasty unnatural fillers that can cause allergies. This cranberry extract is a little more modest than Nature’s Bounty listed above, but the price is a bit lower and you still get a heaping dose of all the goodness cranberries have to offer, with 1400mg of extract per 2 gelcaps. These pills have a reputation for being downed easily with a little water, which is perfect if you want to extend your life with more antioxidants and find you have problems swallowing larger pills. If you’re looking to keep UTI’s at bay, pick up a bottle of this super potent stuff ASAP!
Nature Made Super Strength, Cranberry
These handy, lower-dose softgels from Nature’s Made are perfect for people who have a great diet but want to get more vitamin C and rich phytonutrients into their diet. While this formula doesn’t offer a massive dose of extract like the first two at just 900mg per two softgels, it does offer a mega-dose of vitamin C at over 400% the D.V.! I’d also recommend this for those of you who’re prone to kidney stones but eager to still reap the endless antioxidant benefits cranberries can offer you.
Nature’s Answer UT Answer Cranberry
Nature’s Answer is another lower dose supplement that’s perfect for those who have sensitivities to high doses of cranberry. They’ve also managed to cram over 50% the D.V. of vitamin C into each serving. Their pricing is often higher per dose over many of their competitors, but the value comes down to the little extra details. For instance, they purify the water used to extract and process the cranberry concentrate, and send their products to independent labs for third-party assurances of quality and purity in the ingredients. They also include a patented “Quick Sorb” absorbtion formula to help the body absorb even more of the antioxidant and detoxifying goodness from the berry.
DSE Cystex Liquid Cranberry Complex Supplement
This Cranberry Complex from Cystex is made specifically to promote urinary tract and digestive system health. They’ve taken cranberry extract and combined Bromelein from pineapple to boost immune function and reduce the swelling from infections that makes the pain even worse. Last, the popular prebiotic inulin is added to the mixture to help maintain good/bad bacteria balance in the gut and colon. One tablespoon per day is all anyone needs to steer clear of urinary tract infections. This is a non-sugar formula too.
I hope you’ve learned all you wanted to about cranberries on this page. As you can see, while most of its early history was steeped in folklore claims of this berry’s ability to make you live forever, there is actually a lot of science behind the key antioxidant vitamin C and other antioxidant/anti-inflammatory phytonutrients it contains.
While cranberries won’t give you superstrength like the Incredible Hulk, or make you super-smart like the janitor from Good Will Hunting, it’s safe to say consuming cranberries every day will indeed add years to your life if you consume a quality extract regularly.