Cranberries grow in boggy or wetland areas, on evergreen shrubs primarily in northern regions of the United States. The cranberry shrub has dark green leaves and produces pink flowers and dark red, oval berries. Although fresh cranberries can be eaten raw, many people find their bitter taste unpleasant. For this reason, most enjoy the fruit cooked in sauces or juiced. Cranberry juice is high in vital nutrients and has many health benefits.
It used to be a common belief that cranberry juice could cure urinary infections by making the urine so acidic that bacteria couldn't survive. However, experts now know its the proanthocyanidins in cranberries that prevent bacteria from attaching to the inside of the urinary tract and causing infections. This means that while cranberry juice won't treat existing urinary tract infections, it could prevent them from occurring in the first place. Although the research is mixed, some studies note cranberries can effectively reduce the risk of urinary infection.
Oxidative damage occurs when free radicals accumulate at high levels in the body. Higher levels of free radicals lead to aging, and oxidative damage contributes to various health problems including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Cranberries contain antioxidants that help fight the build-up of free radicals and may help reduce oxidative stress. A 2011 study found cranberries themselves contained higher levels of antioxidants than their juice, although even the latter has some benefit.
Over time, inflammation can cause damage to blood vessels and lead to a build-up of plaque, which causes a condition called atherosclerosis. Cranberries and cranberry juice contain high levels of phytonutrients, a key compound for reducing inflammation in the body. This helps prevent the build-up of plaque inside the blood vessels and may prevent or delay the onset of heart disease.
Phytochemicals in cranberry juice can also help maintain healthy digestion because they prevent a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori from overgrowing in the digestive system. Too much of this bacteria can cause stomach ulcers. Experts also believe the antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory chemicals found in cranberry juice could prevent colon cancer.
The proanthocyanidins in cranberry juice may help keep teeth healthy. According to research at the Center for Oral Biology and Eastman Department of Dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, these chemicals help stop bacteria from attaching to the teeth and causing decay. They may also offer some protection against gum disease.
Cranberry juice is an excellent source of vitamin C or ascorbic acid, a nutrient with several important roles in maintaining health. It helps to keep all the cells in the body healthy and protects them from damage. It is also vital for wound healing and promotes healthy skin, blood vessels, and bones. People who become deficient in vitamin C are at risk of developing scurvy., which causes tiredness, irritability, joint pain, and bruised skin. Consuming food and drinks high in vitamin C such as cranberry juice helps guard against this condition.
Cranberry juice is an excellent source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that strengthens the body's natural immune system and can also help prevent or delay illnesses including cancer, Alzheimer's, and arthritis. Vitamin E is important for maintaining healthy skin and hair. A report by the NIH notes taking vitamin E as a supplement can be harmful if the dose is too high. In particular, it can increase a person's risk of stroke. For this reason, it's preferable to obtain vitamin from dietary sources such as cranberry juice.
The antioxidants in cranberry juice may help to prevent cancer by reducing the body's levels of free radicals. High levels of free radicals can damage cells and increase the risk of cancer. Studies show some of the nutrients present in cranberry juice can also help slow down malignant tumor progression. In particular, these nutrients were found to benefit people with prostate, liver, breast, ovarian, and colon cancers.
Following menopause, women are at a higher risk of developing heart disease in comparison to other groups. A study in 2013 found that supplementing the diets of rats who had their ovaries removed with cranberries reduced their cholesterol levels. This suggests consuming cranberry juice and other cranberry products may help reduce cholesterol levels in post-menopausal women and therefore lower their risk of developing heart disease.
There is some evidence that the chemicals in cranberry juice may effectively fight certain viruses and bacteria. In particular, studies have found that nutrients in cranberries may fend off norovirus, a common cause of food poisoning. This means cranberry juice may offer some benefit in preventing or treating illnesses caused by consuming contaminated food.
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