Cranberry: The Tart that’s Good for Your Heart

Healthnotes Newswire (October 5, 2006)—Good news for people concerned about cholesterol: drinking cranberry juice may raise levels of heart-protective HDL cholesterol.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and having low HDL cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dl) increases your risk. The British Journal of Nutrition recently reported that drinking as little as 1 cup of cranberry juice cocktail each day significantly raised HDL levels in men who had extra weight around their midsections.

Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) belong to the blueberry family. Besides their historical use of promoting urinary tract health, cranberries are also receiving attention for their potent antioxidant and anticancer properties. These activities come from flavonoids—pigments that lend the deep red color to the plant.

Based on the observation that other flavonoid-containing foods like red wine, grapes, cocoa, and orange juice can raise HDL levels, the new study investigated cranberry juice’s effect on HDL levels in 30 middle-aged men.

After drinking 1 cup of cranberry juice cocktail diluted with 1 cup of placebo juice each day for four weeks, the men’s HDL cholesterol levels increased by 8% over baseline levels. “The extent of this increase is near the one usually obtained with [drug] therapy,” the authors of the study reported.

Drinking more cranberry juice—up to 2 cups—didn’t seem to raise HDL levels more than the 1 cup. The authors commented, “We feel that the duration of [cranberry juice consumption] is more important than the daily dose” when it comes to raising HDL.

Although no adverse reactions were reported, people taking anticoagulant drugs like warfarin (Coumadin) shouldn’t eat or drink large amounts of cranberry products without medical supervision, as they may interact with the medication.

If you’re looking for other ways to get your daily dose of cranberries, try eating 1 1/2 cups of fresh cranberries, 1 ounce of dried cranberries, or 1/2 cup of cranberry sauce—these are all about equal to 1 cup of cranberry juice cocktail.

For those people wishing to avoid artificial sweeteners, unsweetened cranberry juice is also available. Most cranberry juice cocktails contain mostly water and sweetener and about 25% juice. If you drank 100% pure unsweetened cranberry juice, you’d only need about 1/4 cup per day to get the same HDL-raising effect of one cup of cranberry juice cocktail.

(Br J Nutr 2006;96:357–64)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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