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New evidence backs cranberries’ healthy rep

New research in humans suggests cranberries’ phenolic acids and flavonoids are indeed helpful.

Just in time for Thanksgiving, we have more research supporting the health-promoting benefits of cranberries. A new study suggests compounds found in the tart little berries are indeed bioavailable and function as helpful antioxidants in older adults. The study will be published in February’s issue of the journal Food Chemistry.

We’ve turned to cranberries for help for ages, since Native American medicine men packed them into poultices to treat wounds and sailors packed them into the hulls of ships to ward off scurvy. Rich in phenols, they’ve been associated with antibacterial, cancer-fighting, and antioxidant activity for years. But most of the evidence supporting this was gleaned from in vitro studies and animal models, according to Shari Henson, who writes about the new research in HerbClip, from the American Botanical Council.

In the new study, researchers expanded on earlier work involving cranberries and conducted a single-dose, pharmacokinetic (how a drug is absorbed, changed and distributed in the body) trial to examine the bioavailability and bioactivity of a range of phenolics in cranberry juice. They took samples of subjects’ blood 10 and 24 hours after they drink the juice to determine antioxidant capacity.

Researchers gave 10 healthy, nonsmoking men and women, aged 50 to 70 years, a hefty dose (237 mL) of a double-strength, low-calorie, low-sugar cranberry juice cocktail. The principal phenolics in the beverages were the anthocyanins peonidin-3-galactoside and -arabinoside, the anthocyanins cyanidin-3-arabinoside and -galactoside, and the flavonols hyperoside and quercetin. Total phenolic content of the single dose of CJC was 188.5 mg.

The study’s authors write: “This is the first study to correlate changes in individual cranberry metabolites, e.g., protocatechuic acid, with an array of measures of antioxidant capacity over time." They conclude that the phenolic acids and flavonoids in cranberry juice are in fact, bioavailable, and “increase antioxidant capacity in healthy older adults.”

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