The effects of cranberry on bladder and other urinary tract infections are well known. The infections are caused by a bacterium, Escherichia coli, known to most people as E. coli that attaches to the wall of the bladder or the urinary tract, and is very difficult to dislodge with antibiotics once it is there.
Cranberry contains a glycoprotein that prevents the E. coli from doing this, and so acts by preventing, not the invasion of the bacterium itself, but the mechanism by which it causes the disease. Drinking cranberry juice on a regular basis can prevent cystitis occurring in women, or at least reduce the frequency of incidences.
Now, however, there is a growing body of evidence that cranberry may have more uses than just for bladder infections. It is known to help prevent gum disease by the same mechanism: the bacteria are prevented from sticking to the teeth and gums by means of the same glycoprotein that is effective with E. coli and urinary tract infections
There is also evidence that cranberry juice can be helpful in resolving ear and respiratory infections. A study of a group of children in 2002 has indicated that cranberry juice can inhibit the adhesion to red blood cells of certain strains of the bacterium Haemophilus influenza that might cause a large proportion of middle ear infections. It seems to have an effect on the hair-like pili, by which bacteria stick to surfaces. This has been supported by results that indicated no effect on the bacteria strains that lack these pili.
These tests, however, were carried out experimentally in test tubes, but it is worth keeping in mind that such studies are under way, and that the results are looking very promising. However, they have not yet reached the stage where they can be stated to have been proved, though there is no reason why you should not try cranberry juice if any of your family is prone to such infections, especially of the middle ear.
Yet another study has established that cranberry might be effective in reducing the risk of heart disease by reducing the oxidation of blood cholesterol that makes it very sticky. There are two type of cholesterol, LDL cholesterol that carried the cholesterol from the liver through the blood to areas of your arteries that need repair. Your blood also contains high density lipoproteins (HDL) that carry excess cholesterol back to the liver for destruction and ejection from the body – that is the so-called ‘good’ cholesterol.
The LDL cholesterol works much like putty, covering the cracks in arterial walls, and without it you could have even more severe problems than with high levels of LDL cholesterol. However, when the LDL cholesterol gets oxidized by, for example, free radicals in the blood, then it becomes sticky and too much of it gets laid down on the artery walls.
Free radicals are produced through many agents, but the most common are smoking, environmental pollution and pesticides. These sticky coatings tend to build up after a time and lead to a condition known as atherosclerosis whereby the build up of coating can severely restrict the artery. This causes high blood pressure and can even lead to the artery becoming completely blocked. This can lead to serious heart problems and, if the artery is in the brain, even strokes.
In the study, a group taking one, two then three glasses of 27% cranberry juice daily for a month at a time were found have a 40% reduced risk of heart disease at the end on month three due to a 10% increase in the good HDL cholesterol. This was due to the antioxidant effect of the cranberry juice preventing the oxidation of the LDL cholesterol which causes the problems. Antioxidants mop up free radicals before they can do any damage.
Cranberries contain a high polyphenol content, and it is believed that it is these antioxidants that are responsible, though this has still to be proved. This antioxidant effect can also reduce the risk of cancer, render you less liable to inflammatory conditions and also give your immune system a boost by helping to clear up the free radicals that are one of your body’s worst enemies. However, that is not all that cranberries can do. There are even more exciting new developments that could have an impact on women suffering from ovarian cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention record that ovarian cancer is the 7th most common type of cancer in the USA, and the 5th most common cause of cancer deaths amongst women. The general treatment for ovarian cancer is by chemotherapy using the platinum drugs Paraplatin and Cisplatin. The problem with these drugs is that cancer cells can become resistant to them, and if higher doses are used it can lead to side effects including renal failure and nerve damage.
Tests were carried out using ovarian cancer cells and a 27% solution of cranberry juice, a common commercially available concentration. The cells were then treated with Paraplatin. It was found that the Paraplatin was six times more effective at killing the ovarian cancer cells than when the cells had not come into contact with the cranberry juice. This is a considerable difference. The rate of spread and growth of some of the other cancer cells were also reduced.
The reason that the cranberry was used was due to its wide range of potential health benefits in fighting stomach ulcers, cystitis and some other cancers. It is believed that the effect is due to very powerful antioxidants known as A-type proanthocyanidins, which are found only in cranberries. Other studies have found this chemical to have had an effect in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells in lung cancer, colon cancer and leukemia, all involving different types of cancer cell. Other antioxidants such as flavenoids and querticin in cranberry juice might also contribute, but the proanthocyanadin is believed to be the principal active agent due it being found only in cranberries.
The researchers temper their results with the caution that these are tests only, but that theoretically a cranberry supplement could be used as a part of a chemotherapy course. Animal studies are commencing shortly though it will be some time before a new therapy has been developed. It is possible; however, that the therapy could consist of a simple oral dose of cranberry juice taken during the course, but you should consult your physician for the most appropriate treatment for you.
However, what is certain is that cranberry may have more uses than just bladder infections.