What cranberries can do for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and more

When you hear cranberries mentioned in a health conversation, you probably immediately think of urinary tract infections (UTIs).

And it wasn’t long ago that a review of 50 studies proved what most of us have known all along… that the tart little berries really do kick UTIs to the curb.

But then there was that research that found dried cranberry powder decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol and improved heart and blood vessel function, brain blood flow and memory.

It turns out that may have just been the tip of the iceberg for what we’re learning cranberries can do for cardiovascular and metabolic health…

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Cranberries bring out the best in your gut

Mounting evidence indicates cranberries have tons of polyphenols and other bioactives known to improve gut health, strengthen the immune system, keep hearts healthy and balance blood sugar.

In a more recent study, researchers in Canada sought to confirm these findings by administering a cranberry extract capsule (the equivalent of ingesting about half a cup of fresh cranberries) to 40 participants in the morning and evening. The researchers collected blood, urine and stool samples at the beginning of the experiment and after four days of consuming the cranberry supplements.

The results reinforced the findings that cranberry extracts appear to improve intestinal microbiota and help prevent cardiometabolic disease — an umbrella term that includes:

But what’s really shocking is beneficial effects were reported after only four days of use.

In addition to their high polyphenol content, cranberries contain high concentrations of oligosaccharides, small fibers believed to contribute to their bioactivity.

The research team showed that the polyphenols and oligosaccharides in cranberry extract boost Bifidobacterium, a bacterium in the gut associated with a reduced risk of cardiometabolic diseases.

“Normally, these bacteria are stimulated by dietary fiber consumption,” says Jacob Lessard-Lord, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods (INAF). “We observed the same effect with cranberry extract with a dose almost 20 times lower.”

The cranberry extract was also found to stimulate Akkermansia muciniphila, a bacterium that helps reduce inflammation of the intestinal mucosa and strengthen the intestinal barrier. This could help counter the harmful effects of a Western diet, which compromises the intestinal barrier’s integrity and can lead to leaky gut.

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“Alteration of the intestinal barrier allows the passage of lipopolysaccharides (LPS) derived from the intestinal microbiota, known as metabolic endotoxemia, and is a crucial factor in the onset and progression of inflammation and metabolic diseases,” says Yves Desjardins, research lead and professor at Université Laval.

But when Akkermansia muciniphila bacterium and Bifidobacterium are stimulated, the microbiota regenerates and recreates an anti-inflammatory environment. This strengthens the connections between cells in the intestinal barrier, reinforcing it.

Cranberries + healthy bacteria = less chronic disease

The researchers plan to explore the long-term effects of the cranberry extract. But for now, there seems to be enough evidence supporting the addition of cranberries to your diet.

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to eat raw cranberries, given how tart they can be. And a lot of commercially prepared cranberry juice cocktails, cranberry sauces and cranberry fruit snacks are loaded with added sugar. And we know how sugar can ruin a good thing.

If you aren’t a fan of the taste of cranberries, a cranberry extract supplement may be the right choice for you or a dried powder mix (like those used in some studies).

If you want to give your gut an extra boost and protect against cardiometabolic diseases, make sure to eat foods rich in Bifidobacterium, like yogurt and cheese. Akkermansia muciniphila is a little harder to come by, as it’s not really present in foods. However, you can encourage your gut to make more Akkermansia muciniphila by consuming fiber-rich foods and foods high in polyphenols. Luckily, some of these foods have both, including:

  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Apples
  • Black beans
  • Chicory root
  • Almonds
  • And of course cranberries

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Cranberry extracts could boost microbiota and counter cardiometabolic diseases —  Université Laval

Short term supplementation with cranberry extract modulates gut microbiota in human and displays a bifidogenic effect — NPJ Biofilms and Microbiomes

Cranberries – Cup Measurements — CookItSimply

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.