The health benefits of cranberries and cranberry juice

Some women are more prone to urinary tract infections (UTI) during their periods, so they take cranberry juice to prevent the infection during this time.

"Cranberries may work by preventing the adhesion of bacteria, most commonly the E. coli bacteria, to the wall of the urinary bladder," says Ms Ang Bixia, Senior Dietitian, Department of Nutrition & Dietetics at K​K Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

However, cranberries (particularly in the form of cranberry juice) are considered more of an alternative medicine or health supplement for this ailment.

Can cranberry juice prevent urinary tract infections in women?

Cranberry juice has traditionally been used for the treatment and prevention of urinary tract infections (UTI), and there is some research to support its use in the prevention of these infections. Recent studies have also suggested that regular drinking of cranberry juice may have a protective effect against UTI in pregnancy.

However, to date there is no evidence that consuming cranberry juice has a beneficial effect for women having their period. A moderate amount of cranberry juice has no known harmful effect, but an excessive intake may have a laxative effect.

What role do cranberries play in the battle against cancer?

Cranberries are rich in phytochemicals such as flavonoids, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins and phenolic acids. In experiments on colon oesophageal and breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory, cranberry extracts have been found to slow cancer cell growth. A study in 2007 reported that the addition of cranberry extract to standard chemotherapy increased the effectiveness of the chemotherapy several fold, when used in the treatment of ovarian cancer cells grown in the laboratory.

Although these reports are interesting and point to a possible role of cranberries in cancer treatment, there is still a long way to go before we say that cranberries have any anti-cancer benefit, and active research is ongoing to further address these questions.

The exact compound in cranberries that is responsible for any anti-cancer benefit needs to be identified. In addition, more studies would be required, first, in laboratory animals, to test the effect of cranberries on the development and/o​r treatment of cancer, and to determine the optimum dose to be used.

"If proven safe, studies can then be conducted on humans to evaluate the safety, effectiveness and role of cranberries. Only after these studies can we reach a conclusion on their true anti-cancer properties i​n humans," says Dr Ang Mei-Kim​, Senior Consultant, Department of Medical Oncology​ at ​​National Cancer Centre Singapore​ (NCCS), a member of the SingHealth group.

Estimated nutrient content of cranberries (raw)

Serving size: 110g

Energy: 51 kcal

Carbohydrate: 13g

Dietary fiber: 5g

Protein: 0g

Fat: 0g

Cholesterol: 0mg

Sodium: 2mg

Ref: W09​