The cranberry, a bright red fruit with a strong, distinctive flavor, is one of only three species of fruit native to North America. Traditionally the cranberry was used by the Native Americans as a food source and medicinally to treat wounds, urinary disorders, diarrhea, and diabetes. Today, cranberries are primarily used to prevent dental carries, urinary tract infections, peptic ulcers, heart disease, aging and even cancer. While cranberries possess a number of benefits, many women question whether cranberry extract is safe during pregnancy.
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According to the “Cranberry Institute: Health Research,” cranberry extract contains compounds termed proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins, flavonoids and hydroxycinnamic acid, which contribute to its red color, phytonutrient capacity and antioxidant properties. Cranberries work in your body by inhibiting the adhesion of bacteria to your cell walls. The anti-adhesion properties have been shown to hinder bacteria associated with gum disease, peptic ulcers, kidney stones and urinary tract infections, which are common during pregnancy according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. The proanthocyanidins compound found in cranberries may also help protect you from heart disease by inhibiting low density lipoprotein oxidation and cancer because of its anti-carcinogenic activity. Recent research has revealed that the antioxidant effect of cranberries help protect your brain cells from free radical damage and subsequent motor and cognitive function losses.
In “The Cranberry: Therapeutic Properties,” Suzanne Irvin reports that whether in the form of juice, cocktail juice or supplements, cranberries have a variety of proven health benefits. However, the amount of juice which must be consumed in order to be considered effective is sizable. In addition, cranberry juice contains approximately 30 percent sugar and added calories. If you are diabetic or concerned about excessive weight gain, cranberry extract presents a healthy alternative with the same beneficial properties. Although the juice is considered just as effective as the extract, the supplement is likely more appropriate for pregnant women who wish to reap the known advantages of cranberry.
According to Tieraona Dog in “The Use of Botanicals During Pregnancy and Lactation,” urinary tract infections are the most common complaints during pregnancy because of the natural changes that occur in the urinary tract. The changes that increase susceptibility to bacterial infections include functional and anatomical changes of the bladder. Functional changes include urinary retention, altered pH, glycosuria, proteinuria and hormonal alterations. Anatomical changes occur as the uterus is directly on top of the bladder. As it expands with the growing baby, its increased weight can block drainage of urine from the bladder, causing increased volume and kidney enlargement. These conditions are favorable for enhanced bacterial growth. Cranberry is considered an effective and safe preventative measure for use during pregnancy to fight off such infections.
According to Oladapo Ladipo in “Nutrition in Pregnancy: Mineral and Vitamin Supplements,” nutritional needs are greatest during pregnancy and lactation in order to support the developing fetus and infant. Many physiological changes occur during pregnancy which alter absorption and metabolism and may ultimately result in micronutrient deficiencies such as anemia. Cranberries are an excellent source of A, C, and B complex vitamins, folic acid, and fiber. In addition, cranberries are full of minerals including iron, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium, all of which are essential to pregnant and breastfeeding women and their newborn children. Oladapo Ladipo states that micronutrients supplementation, especially folic acid and iron, help reduce maternal complications, illness, preterm delivery and low birth weight infants. Cranberry consumption among pregnant and lactating women support their micronutrient needs and protect against deficiencies.
In “Safety and Efficacy of Cranberry During Pregnancy and Lactation,” Jean-Jacques Dugoua et al., reports that there is no scientific evidence of either safety or harm to you or your fetus as a result of consuming cranberry during pregnancy. Cranberry is generally well tolerated by most individuals, however when consumed in high doses, it can cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Cranberry is known to increase urinary oxalate; therefore cranberry may not be appropriate if you are prone to kidney stones. As with any supplement, there may be side effects depending on your health condition. However, in general cranberry has been deemed safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women with no known effects on the fetus.
Recent research suggests that cranberry extract provides two different pathways to health, through antioxidant and anti-microbial activity, thus making it a unique and beneficial fruit. According to Jean-Jacques Dugoua et al., in “Safety and Efficacy of Cranberry During Pregnancy and Lactation,” cranberry extract appears to be a safe alternative to therapeutic drugs if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Cranberry extract presents a natural, effective mechanism to fight infection, prevent nutrient deficiency and maintain overall health during pregnancy and lactation.