Though cranberries come from an evergreen plant that's grown all over North America, these tart red berries normally only grace tables during the winter holidays. But the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants present indicate there are more uses for cranberries than just a side of savory sauce.
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According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, cranberries are also often used as dietary supplements. They are available in the form of capsules, tablets, powders and extracts, with one of the most common being cranberry pills.
The benefits of cranberry pills include anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-microbial effects due to the fruit’s high polyphenol content. There is, however, conflicting evidence on whether a cranberry supplement benefits patients with a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Nutrition of Cranberry
The USDA states that a 100-gram serving of fresh cranberry fruits contains 46 calories, 87.32 grams of water content, 0.46 grams of protein, 0.13 grams of fat and 11.97 grams of carbohydrates.
A 100-gram serving of sweetened, dried cranberries has 308 calories and 15.79 grams of water. At 0.17 grams, dried cranberries have an even lower protein when compared to its fresh fruit counterpart, but a higher carbohydrate content of 82.80 grams.
A cup — or 252 grams of unsweetened cranberry juice — which is commonly consumed as a form of UTI relief, contains only 116 calories. It has a high amount of water content at 220.44 grams per cup of unsweetened juice, as well as 0.99 grams of protein, 30.87 grams of carbohydrate and 0.33 grams of fat.
Read more: How to Find the Best Cranberry Juice Brands
Cranberry vitamins include trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, niacin and vitamin K. Cranberries are also rich in vitamin C, a water soluble vitamin and antioxidant that helps the immune system properly function. Cranberry is particularly high in potassium, a mineral and an electrolyte responsible for muscle contraction. It also contains iron, phosphorus, sodium and magnesium.
Health Benefits of Cranberry Pills
In a study published in July 2016 in the journal Advances in Nutrition, researchers found that cranberries possess anti-fungal, anti-microbial and anti-viral properties due to the fruit's chemical polyphenol content. Flavonols present in cranberries, a sub-group of flavonoids, are plant-based compounds known for their antioxidant abilities. Their presence in cranberries helps prevent inflammation, as well as prevent the motility of bacterial cells in the human body.
Cranberry supplement benefits also impact a person's heart health. A small study of 56 people conducted in May 2016 by the Agricultural Research Service found that drinking cranberry juice twice a day reduces the risk of not just diabetes, but also cardiovascular disease and the incidence of stroke.
There is conflicting evidence to the long-held belief that one of the benefits of cranberry pills is in treating urinary tract infections (UTIs). According to the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, UTIs from bacterial infections are one of the main types of infections affecting patients in nursing homes.
Research from a study published in January 2014 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society shows that cranberry capsules reduced the incidence of UTIs in older women living in nursing homes. However, the results of a study published in JAMA in November 2016 showed that giving patients cranberry pills dosages made no significant difference in the incidence of UTIs over the period of a year.
Cranberry Pills Side Effects
According to Tulane University's School of Medicine, large cranberry pills dosages may also alter the effect of warfarin, a blood thinning medication. This can be particularly dangerous if you end up with a cut or injury after having taken both warfarin and cranberries. The Mayo Clinic explains that certain foods like cranberries or cranberry juice can lower the efficacy of warfarin, resulting in an enhanced risk of bleeding.
Other cranberry pills side effects include irritation in the lining of the stomach. An excess of cranberry pills dosage can also lead to the possibility of formation of kidney stones due to the fruit's high oxalate content.
Diets high in both calcium and oxalate — both found in cranberries — can lead to the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones. The kidneys are unable to remove the high concentration of minerals that exist, resulting in hard, stone masses that are difficult and painful to pass.
- Mayo Clinic: “Warfarin Side Effects: Watch for Interactions"
- JAMA: "Effect of Cranberry Capsules on Bacteriuria Plus Pyuria Among Older Women in Nursing Homes: A Randomized Clinical Trial”
- National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases: "Epidemiology & Prevention of UTI”
- Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: "Effectiveness of Cranberry Capsules to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections in Vulnerable Older Persons: A Double-Blind Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial in Long-Term Care Facilities”
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Cranberry"
- Tulane University School of Medicine: “Cranberry"
- USDA FoodData Central: “Cranberries, raw”
- USDA FoodData Central: "Cranberries, Dried, Sweetened"
- USDA FoodData Central: “Cranberry Juice, Unsweetened”
- Advances in Nutrition: "Impact of Cranberries on Gut Microbiota and Cardiometabolic Health: Proceedings of the Cranberry Health Research Conference 2015”
- Agricultural Research Service: "Cranberry Juice Can Boost Heart Health"