A Tart Toast: Cranberry Juice Over Compounds

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Today is Eat a Cranberry Day—a great reason to drink a glass of cranberry juice.

The compounds responsible for cranberries’ brilliant color, proanthocyanidins, are well studied in cancer prevention and were long suspected to provide protection against urinary tract infections (UTIs).  Not only are UTIs painful, but the inflammation associated with chronic UTIs increases the risk of one form of bladder cancer.

But new research suggests that the whole juice is more effective at providing protection against UTIs than a single group of compounds. The study was published in the journal Food Science and Biotechnology.

Proanthocyanidins target the small, hair like structures that bacteria use to attach to surfaces, such as the cells lining the urinary tract.  When enough bacteria accumulate, they can form a biofilm—a slimy community of fellow microbes where they grow and thrive.

In the study, scientists at Worcester Polytechnic Institute compared how well E. coli, a type of bacteria that is responsible for some UTIs, formed biofilms in both cranberry juice and pure proanthocyanidins.  The researchers mixed the bacteria in flasks with either the juice or the proanthocyanidins.  When they observed the biofilm growth, they saw that whole cranberry juice was much more effective at inhibiting biofilm formation compared to the proanthocyanidins.  The cranberry juice completely inhibited biofilm formation. The proanthocyanidins’ ability to prevent biofilm formation was dependent upon the number of bacteria—the more bacteria present, the less inhibition observed.

This is a cell study and more research is needed—but the findings suggest that whole foods offer health benefits that isolated compounds cannot.

You can find recipes for preparing delicious, tart cranberries in AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer or you can simply pour yourself a glass of juice and drink to your health!

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Cranberry Institute, and the Wisconsin Cranberry Board.


Author: Teresa

Teresa L. Johnson, MSPH, RDN, is a nutrition and health communications consultant with a long-time interest in the role of plant-based diets and cancer prevention. Her work draws on elements of nutritional biochemistry, phytochemistry, toxicology, and epidemiology.

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