Cranberries are one of the great superfoods rich in plant antioxidants and cancer-fighting phytochemicals called proanthocyanadins (PACs).
Here are seven reasons to eat cranberries this season:
1. Super Antioxidant Cell-Protective Activity: Cranberry phytochemicals protect your genetic material, your DNA from damage by high oxidative stress and free radical damage. This is one mechanism by which plant antioxidants inhibit cancer development and progression. As we age, we have more oxidative stress and therefore benefit by adding deeply-colored foods rich in antioxidants to our daily diet. The deep red color of cranberries alerts us to the presence of plant chemicals that protect and support repair of your DNA. Your food is talking to your genes. Choose wisely! (4) (11) (13)
2. Bladder Health: PACs have a unique ability to cross link or attach to the lining of the bladder and urinary tract, thus inhibiting the attachment and growth of bacteria, including E. Coli, a common cause of urinary tract infections. This explains why cranberry juice has been used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine to promote resolution of and even reduce the frequency of bladder infections. (8) (9) (10)
3. Stomach Health: Similarly, some stomach ulcers are related to the overgrowth of the bacteria Heliobacter pylori. PACs act similarly in the stomach lining by preventing the attachment of this bacteria and thus lowering the chances for its growth, which leads to symptoms such as burning and pain and ultimately ulceration of the stomach lining. (1) (5)
4. Cancer-Fighting Activity: Cranberries, like many plant foods, are multi-taskers and act by interacting with more than one aspect of cell physiology and cancer growth factors. Cranberries are also source of epicatechins, quercitin and ursolic acid, all of which are potent cancer-fighting agents. The wide array of plant chemicals in cranberries regulate the activity of several enzymes crucial to cancer cell growth. These enzymes include matrix metalloproteinase, quinone reductase and ornithine decarboxylase. Cranberry phytochemicals also promote normal cell cycling and normal cell death (apoptosis), which is lost in cancer cells, allowing them to grow and multiply without limit. By supporting normal cell functioning, the factors contributing to the development and growth of cancer are decreased.
Studies have demonstrated that plant chemicals present in cranberries are active in several cancer cell lines, including hormonal cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer as well as very common cancers, including lung cancer and colon cancer. This may be due to the presence of small amounts of resveratrol and pterostilbene, which protect DNA and thus prolong longevity of healthy cells. (4) (6) (7) (11)
5. Liver and Cellular Detoxification: Plant chemicals in cranberries support the normal "phase one" detoxification pathways in the liver. Cranberries effect enzymes that are responsible for both drug detoxification as well as detoxification of toxic environmental chemicals that may be linked to increased cancer risk. (13)
6. Rich in Nutrients: Fresh cranberries are rich in vitamin C and also contain small amounts of fiber, manganese, vitamin K and vitamin E.
7. Promote Normal Anti-Inflammatory Function The deep red color of cranberries signals to us the presence of the cancer-fighting quercitin (also found in the skin of red apples and in red onions). Cranberry has been show to lower the production of several pro-inflammatory molecules including cyclooxygenases (COX 1 and COX 2) as well as Interleukin 6 (IL-6), which are all upregulated in cancer cells and the surrounding tissue. (14) (13) Altering the environment of cancer cells with food and diet is a potent strategy.
Adding Cranberries to Your Diet: You will derive the most nutritional value from fresh, raw, unprocessed berries. Many of the antioxidant and cell-protective properties are preserved when cranberries are dried or cooked into delicious sauces. Consider keeping dried cranberries on hand to add to salads, grains, yogurt, applesauce, hot tea, even chicken or meat dishes. They have a delicate and tart flavor that does not overpower. You can create a cancer-fighting cell protective diet by getting in the habit of adding nutrient-dense foods such as berries rich in phytochemicals on a daily basis.
Because the phytochemicals in cranberries address primary aspects of cancer development and progression including inflammation, oxidative stress and free radical damage, detoxification, cell cycling and cell death as well as gene expression and DNA damage and repair, they must be considered one of the great cancer-fighting foods.
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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your professional health care provider for guidance with your health, medical and dietary decisions.
1. Zhang L, Ma J, Pan K et al. Efficacy of cranberry juice on Helicobacter pylori infection: a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial. Helicobacter. 2005;10:139-45. 2005.
2. Trivedi A. Role of cranberry juice in preventing recurrent urinary tract infections in the pediatric population. Asian J Pharm 2009;3:161. 2009.
3. Tempera G, Corsello S, Genovese C et al. Inhibitory activity of cranberry extract on the bacterial adhesiveness in the urine of women: an ex-vivo study. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2010 Apr-Jun;23(2):611-8. 2010.
4. Sun J, Hai Liu R. Cranberry phytochemical extracts induce cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Cancer Lett. 2005 Dec 22; [Epub ahead of print]. 2005. PMID:16377076.
5. Shmuely H, Yahav J, Samra Z, Chodick G, Koren R, Niv Y, Ofek I. Effect of cranberry juice on eradication of Helicobacter pylori in patients treated with antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Jun;51(6):746-51. 2007. PMID:17487928.
6. Rimando A. Pterostilbene as a new natural product agonist for the peroxisome proliferators-activated receptor alpha isoform. Paper presented at the 228th American Chemical Society National Meeting, Philadelphia, PA, August 23, 2004. 2004.Muller CE, Khoo C and Percival SS. Cranberry polyphenols down-regulate the toll-like receptor 4 pathway and NF-B activation, while still enhancing tumor necrosis factor secretion. FASEB J, Apr 2010; 24: 332.2. 2010.
7. MacLean MA, Matchett MD, Amoroso J et al. Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) flavonoids inhibit matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in human prostate cancer cells. FASEB J, Apr 2007; 21: A1000. 2007.
8. Liu Y, Black MA, Caron L, et al. Role of cranberry juice on molecular-scale surface characteristics and adhesion behavior of Escherichia coli. Biotechnol Bioeng. 2006 Feb 5;93(2):297-305. 2006.
9. Jepson R, Mihaljevic L, Craig J. Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;1:CD001321. 2004.
10. Guay DR. Cranberry and urinary tract infections. Drugs. 2009;69(7):775-807. 2009.
11. Ferguson PJ, Kurowska E, Freeman DJ, Chambers AF, Koropatnick DJ. A flavonoid fraction from cranberry extract inhibits proliferation of human tumor cell lines. J Nutr. 2004 Jun;134(6):1529-35. 2004. PMID:15173424.
12. Déziel BA, Patel K, Neto C et al. Proanthocyanidins from the American Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) inhibit matrix metalloproteinase-2 and matrix metalloproteinase-9 activity in human prostate cancer cells via alterations in multi. J Cell Biochem. 2010 Oct 15;111(3):742-54. 2010.
13. Côté J, Caillet S, Doyon G et al. Bioactive compounds in cranberries and their biological properties. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Aug;50(7):666-79. 2010.
14. Beverly K, Basu A and Lucas EA. Anti-inflammatory effects of cranberry juice in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated RAW 264.7 murine macrophage cells. FASEB J. 2008 22:890.8 [Meeting Abstract] . 2008.
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