This past September I had the pleasure of attending the ADA (American Dietetic Association) Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) held right here in beautiful San Diego. More than 6,000 registered dietitians, nutrition science researchers, policy makers, health-care providers and industry leaders attend the annual meeting — and address key issues affecting the health of all Americans. The annual FNCE features more than 100 research and educational presentations, lectures, debates, panel discussions and culinary demonstrations. More than 350 exhibitors from corporations, government and nonprofit agencies showcase new consumer food products and nutrition education materials. Some of the presentations I had the opportunity to attend included one presented by the FDA regarding food safety, titled “How Risky is Our Food?” (a timely issue!) as well as one presented by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) and the Grocery Manufacturing Association (GMA) on the challenges of reformulating products with less sodium while maintaining flavor. One morning I attended a breakfast presentation on the “Health benefits of cranberry….It’s not just about the bladder anymore!” by Amy Howell, PhD, sponsored by the Cranberry Marketing Committee, and this is what I would like to share today.
Cranberries are native to North America. They have a long history of use by Native Americans who not only used them as food, but for medication to ward off a variety of conditions, including infections. Cranberries are also considered a functional food, per Wikipedia: “Functional foods are part of the continuum of products that individuals may consume to increase their health and/or contribute to reducing their disease burden.” It is well know that cranberry juice is often prescribed for UTIs (urinary tract infections). The assumption was the acidity of the juice would “kill” off the infection. Actually, cranberries have an anti-adhesion effect, which prevents bacteria from adhering to mucus membranes. This anti-adhesion is attributed to Proanthocyanidins, or PACs, which causes bacteria such as E.coli to simply be flushed out of the urinary tract before an infection in the bladder or kidney can occur.
Cranberries also provide numerous cardiovascular benefits. Studies have shown cranberries can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the bad cholesterol, and maintain or improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the happy/good cholesterol. In fact a recent, small four-week study on men resulted in an 8.6% increase of HDL by drinking an 8 ounce glass of cranberry juice (27%) a day, while drugs improved HDL by approximately 10% in the same time period. From this data, the Cranberry Institute is designing a larger human study to research this further.
Anti-cancer activity with the use of cranberries is another area of research. In vitro (in the lab, petri dish) studies have shown a reduction in tumor cell growth for various types of cancer including, breast, colon, prostate and lung. Human clinical trials are limited to prostate cancer at this time. A six month study on men with elevated PSA levels were treated with daily cranberry supplements for six months, resulting with an improvement in the subjects’ Prostate Symptom Score.
The speaker, Amy Howell, PhD, also spoke of another interesting trial being studied regarding periodontitis disease. They are extracting a compound from the cranberry and injecting into the gums of subjects with bone loss related to periodontitis disease, on a daily basis, resulting in bone regrowth in a matter of days. Amy states this research is ongoing and it will probably be at least two years before this makes it to the market.
As you can see our native plant has many health qualities. Cranberries are being used and studied for a variety of reasons including, bladder protection, oral hygiene, healthy stomach, anti-aging, and heart and vascular protection. According to Dr. Martin Starr of the Cranberry Institute, all forms of cranberries provide the same health benefits. To achieve the bacteria blocking equivalencies of cranberries, consume an 8-10 ounce glass of 27% cranberry juice, or one half-cup serving of fresh cranberries, a half-cup of cranberry sauce, or one ounce of dried cranberries on a daily basis. You can also visit my website (www.RD4Health.com) for my popular Cranberry Salsa recipe!
Here are a few more fun facts regarding cranberries: The plant substances in cranberries that are responsible for their anti-adhesion effect will tolerate heat and are maintained when they are cooked. How did cranberries get their name? When the first Europeans arrived in America in 1620, the Native American Indians introduced them to the very special red berry. Because the plant’s blossoms resembled the head of a crane when they waved in the wind, the settlers named it “crane berry”, which was later shortened to “cranberry”. (Info courtesy of the Cranberry marketing Committee.)