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THE HERBAL CORNER -
* Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)

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Cranberry is a bitter red berry derived from a low-lying evergreen (Vaccinium macrocarpon) native to North America. Most of the cranberry harvest is use to make sweetened juices but many people now use it in various forms for health benefits.

Cranberry’s main medicinal use, to prevent and treat urinary tract infections, is a relatively modern discovery dating only to the early twentieth century. Earlier traditional applications included its use as a remedy for stomach ailments and gallbladder attacks. Scientific studies have generally found that cranberry does indeed help to prevent or alleviate urinary tract infections. A beneficial effect on kidney stones and chronic kidney inflammation is less proven. Cranberry is also being taken for its vitamin C and its phytonutrients, including flavonoids such as the proanthocyanidins, which are beneficial antioxidants.

Do scientists know how it works? Researchers initially suspected that cranberry juice turned urine more acidic, making the urinary tract less hospitable to bacteria that can cause an infection. Recent studies indicate that the herb’s effects are due more to an ability to prevent bacteria from sticking to the lining of the bladder and urinary tract. Exactly which compounds are most active in promoting urinary tract is still being determined.

Cranberry extracts may help prevent two major diseases: heart disease (by inhibiting oxidation of harmful LDL cholesterol) and cancer (an in vitro test showed potential anticarcinogenic activity in the fruit’s proanthocyanidin fraction). A recent study added to findings on how the herb treats urinary tract infections by determining that cranberry juice acts on the cell wall to prevent proper attachment of E. coli bacteria.

Avoid medicinal doses of cranberry concentrate if you are taking drugs for urinary or kidney problems. It is safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It should not be used as a substitute for antibiotics during an acute urinary tract infection.

Cranberry products are typically available in liquid form, tablets, capsules, and softgels containing dried, unsweetened juice powder or concentrated extract. Some products combine cranberry with vitamin C. Unsweetened cranberry juice, available in some natural food stores, is the most potent cranberry drink but many people find this difficult to consume due to the extremely sour taste. Sweetened cranberry juice drinks and "cocktails" are more palatable; those that have only 10 percent or less of the healthful juice need to be taken in greater quantities than higher-quality drinks with 30 percent or more cranberry juice. Even the highly sweetened commercial cranberry juices may have therapeutic effects, according to some studies. For example, a 1994 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that ten ounces per day of a commercially available cranberry juice cocktail was almost twice as effective as a placebo in reducing bacteria in urine.

Please note: the information contained herein has been compiled from various sources. The above statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. We make no claims, either expressed or implied, that any treatments mentioned in this newsletter will cure disease, replace prescription medication, or supersede sound medical advice.

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