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We often hear that berries are a ‘superfood’ – a type of food that offers a wide range of health benefits and as such is often referred to as one of the foods we need to eat more of on a daily basis. Blueberries get much attention for their superfood powers but let’s not forget about cranberries. Cranberries have been considered a superfood specifically in the area of urinary health for a number of years, but this antioxidant rich fruit appears to have a number of potential health benefits for our heart, digestive system, oral and skin health.
Cranberries contain the polyphenols called proanthocyanidins, molecules found naturally in some plant foods that have powerful antioxidant properties – that is, they act to prevent the cells from damage. Proanthocyanidins specifically help to prevent bacteria sticking to cells which helps to stop infections. It appears that while other fruits contain polyphenols it is specifically cranberries that have this effect hence their proposed benefits when it comes to preventing urinary tract infections.
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Urinary tract infections (UTI) are surprisingly common with up to 1 in 4 women in Australia suffering from a UTI each year. Anecdotally the use of cranberry to help manage and prevent recurrent UTI’s has been proposed for some time and there is some evidence to support the therapeutic use of cranberry, in a range of forms. Specifically it appears that while cranberry will not prevent bacterial growth in the urinary tract in some people it appears ti stop bacteria from adhering, reducing the duration and frequency of infection. This means that for anyone who suffers from recurrent UTI’s, the active use of cranberry potentially offers benefits to reduce the incidence of UTI infection.
In the same way cranberry appears to work for the urinary tract, there is also some evidence to show it may also help to reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria in the mouth is linked to increased levels of plaque formation, gum disease and tooth decay and as such reducing this bacteria is linked to a range of positive dental and oral health outcomes. While specific research investigating the proposed link between cranberry and a reduction in tooth decay and gum disease, theoretical models support the use of cranberry in moderation to support oral health.
One of the most recent developments when it comes to the overall health benefits cranberry offers in the diet is its linked to digestive health outcomes. Of all the areas of nutrition that are of growing interest, gut health and its link to immune function is perhaps the greatest. Previous research has linked cranberries to a reduced risk of developing stomach ulcers thanks to their antibacterial function. More recently, cellular studies have linked the antioxidant rich cranberry polyphenols to positive changes in gut microflora, or the gut bugs that help to optimise digestive health and potentially regulate immune function. While this area of research is still in its early stages, antioxidant rich cranberry again appears to only offer positive benefits.
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