Getting to know cranberries and its benefits for maintaining urinary tract health

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By Maria Eloisa Estipona Villaraza, RND

CranberryAnother common name for cranberry is “bounce berry”. Why “bounce berry”?  Ancient stories about this magnificent fruit revealed that a certain New Jersey grower (John Webb) who had wooden legs, had difficulty carrying sacks of cranberries down the stairs. Instead he dropped the cranberries down the stairs and in term noticed that the firmest berries bounced to the bottom but the rotten ones never made it down.

But these glossy scarlet red and very tart berries do more than bounce. Cranberries belong to the same Vacciunium genus as the blueberry, and are now popularly touted as having positive benefits in preventing recurrent UTI.

Nutritional Profile of Cranberry

Cranberry as a fruit boasts several nutrients. The following chart graphically details the daily nutritional value that a serving of cranberries provide. This is based on the Food Rating System Chart which highlights foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients.

Nutrients in Cranberries

Vitamin C and dietary fiber play important roles in immunity and digestion. Though not listed in this table, the following nutrients are also in present in cranberries – calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and sugar which are all essential for optimal metabolic health.

Cranberries also have an array of phytonutrients or phytochemicals the presence of which has captured the interest of health researchers, in particular proanthocyanidins and flavonoids.

Indeed, cranberries possess “tartness” in taste and have strong acidity. It is because of these acidic characteristics that researchers previously believed that cranberry had the potential to prevent UTI. Recent research has shown that it is not only the acidity that is potent in cranberries but also the unusual nature of their antioxidant-enzyme component, proanthocyanidin (PACs), that is related to prevention of UTI.

How does this mechanism of action work? The special structure of the PACs act as a barrier to the bacteria that may otherwise latch on the urinary tract. They contain tannins, which are stable phenolic compounds exhibiting potent in vitro anti-adhesion activity against both antibiotic sensitive and resistant strains of Escherichia coli bacteria.

This “non-stick”, anti-adhesion activity makes it more difficult for unwanted bacteria like E. coli to cling onto the urinary tract linings. In addition cranberry’s PACs help prevent the proliferation of bacteria that can result in outright infection. The group of individuals who have benefited the most are middle-aged woman who have experienced recurrent UTIs. In some studies, UTIs in this age and gender group have been reduced by more than one third through dietary consumption of cranberry.

Cranberries are superb fruit for maintaining UTI health and there are several all-natural products in the market that provide all the macro and micronutrients needed in the daily life processes of the cells and tissues. In addition cranberry supplements can help provide antioxidants that fight the oxidative stress reactions particularly the onset on non-communicable diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and hyperlipidemia.

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There are a few terms that we need to know about food and health such as:

  • Nutrient: Any substance, organic and inorganic, that can supply energy, build and repair cells and tissues, and regulate life processes. (Ruiz, Claudio, Sy,2006)
  • Phytonutrients/phytochemicals: naturally occurring components in plants that confer health benefits beyond normal nutrition (Medicine Net.com)
  • Antioxidant: Any substance that reduces oxidative damage (damage due to oxygen) such as that caused by free radicals (Medicine Net.com)
  • Free radicals: Are highly reactive chemicals that rob energy from the normal functioning cells of the body so that they can survive in the body.

References :

  1. Howell ,AB. Foreman B., Cranberry Juice and adhesion of antibodies resistant uropathogens, JAMA , 2002;287;3082-3083
  2. Oxford Journals, “Medicine Age and Aging”, Volume 38 Issue 3 pp 255-25, Recurrent Urinary Tract Infection in older people : the role of cranberry products
  3. Ruiz, Claudio et al , 2006 Essentials of Nutrition in Philippine Setting
  4. Ruiz, Claudio , De Castro , Medical Nutrition Therapy for Filipinos , 2004
  5. WH foods: Cranberries, 2010

Maria Eloisa Estipona Villaraza, RND is an independent nutritionist dietitian and private practicing dietitian.

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