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Cranberry Bounty, the quicker picker-upperby Mary Jasch
It's a fact. Cranberries do prevent urinary tract infections. But do you know they reduce LDL, total cholesterol, inflammation and tumors? That they aid cancer treatment?
Contrary to widespread belief the berry's acidity is not responsible for its medicinal effects.
Within the scope of her research, Howell isolates cranberry and blueberry compounds that benefit human health. She focuses on condensed tannins, or proanthocyanidins (PACs), that prevent E. coli and other antibiotic resistant bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urinary tract and bladder. These PACs give cranberries their body, astringent taste, and medicinal properties. She investigates other activities of PACs, including bioavailability.
Urinary Tract Infections
Although PACs do not kill bacteria, taken regularly they can prevent urinary tract infections by disallowing adhesion. The bacteria will not do anything if it cannot bind to the walls.
"Adding things into the diet is so much easier psychologically than taking something away. You may eliminate something like that sugary soda." - Howell
With 11 million doctor-treated cases a year in the US last year, bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Left untreated, UTIs can cause kidney damage. But Howell has good news. “With one glass a day, there is a 50% reduction in UTIs,"¯ she says. Current studies funded by the National Institute of Health look to determine what additional benefits, if any, two glasses of juice a day produce.
Cranberries increase HDL and lower LDL and total cholesterol. A study published in the September 2007 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine looked at patients who reduced LDL with drugs. “Even if they reduced it below 100, if HDL didn't increase, it didn't matter how low the LDL went, they were still at major risk. The key is keeping HDL high,"¯ Howell explains. “It put a whole new slant on drugs lowering LDL."¯
"Prescription drugs are only able to raise HDL by about 8-15% and some of these drugs have been banned for safety issues," she says. "A clinical trial in Canada found that when participants drank two glasses of cranberry juice cocktail a day, their HDL increased by nearly 8%. Consuming cranberry could offer people an additional way to increase their HDL.
“With all this trouble with anti-biotic resistance and over-medication, I think we're returning to nature and letting food be our medicine. We know these things have good biological activities and we're eating anyway. It's amazing how much you can do to improve your health."
Cranberries also reduce inflammation in veins and arteries involved in so many dreaded diseases including diabetes and heart disease. This inflammation acts like clogged arteries.
The normal process of getting rid of cells and regenerating new ones is called apoptosis, or programmed cell death. In cancer, a cell gets traumatized and doesn't want to die. Cranberry induces apoptosis and tells the cells to die. It reduces rapid tumor growth.
“Most studies have been done on breast cancer,"¯ Howell says. “With ovarian cancer, a lot of chemotherapy drugs are getting resistant. When you add cranberry juice, cancer cells died more readily from the drugs. Cranberries serve as a helper."¯ Through lab-grown cell cultures, Howell has shown that cranberries aid anti-cancer drugs.
And for those who want to know, white cranberries are simply unripe cranberries harvested early. They contain PACs and are milder in flavor.
Come and Get It!
So, how to avail yourself of this berry's bounty?
Easiest bet: drink an 8-ounce glass of cranberry juice cocktail in the morning. Its effect lasts for 10 to 12 hours. Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail, ShopRite brand and cranberry-flavored Northland 100% Juice contain 27% cranberry juice ¬ the highest amount on the market of blended juices. Northland's 32 oz. size 100% Cranberry Juice, Trader Joe's and Knudsen's all contain 100% cranberry juice.
Cocktails, sauces, and canned sauce have all been tested. Heat does not disturb the anti-adhesion compounds.
½ cup sauce = 8 oz. cocktail = 1.5 oz. dried cranberries
Cranberry capsules: look for whole, spray-dried cranberries.
But moderation is key, warns Howell. “You shouldn't eat large amounts of these plant foods. Our bodies are designed to take certain amounts. Our bodies will shunt out the excess or they may become pro-oxidant. It's dosage related.
“Since there is competition for stomach space, you should try and eat foods with a health functionality," she adds. “Fruits and vegetables have such a broad array of benefits for prevention of disease and other types of afflictions (especially as we age), that we should start early on and take advantage of the medicinal power found in natural plant bioactive compounds."
Amy Howell's work has been published in The New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of the American Medical Association, Phytochemistry, and the Journal of Natural Products.
Marucci Center: http://pemaruccicenter.rutgers.edu/
Ocean Spray: http://www.oceanspray.com/
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