Almost everyone develops heartburn at some time or another. The uncomfortable burning sensation -- which starts behind your sternum and sometimes spreads into your throat -- is the main symptom of acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the valvelike muscle at the end of your esophagus relaxes too often or doesn't seal properly, allowing harsh digestive juices to flow upward. Although cranberry juice can provide important health benefits, it probably won't help alleviate acid reflux.
Cranberries are an excellent source of procyanidins, an antimicrobial phytochemical that's been shown to keep H. pylori -- a microorganism associated with ulcers, gastritis and other gut problems -- from adhering to the lining of your stomach, according to a study published in 2000 in "FEMS Immunology and Medical Microbiology." While it's known that H. pylori doesn't cause acid reflux disease, it's not well understood how it affects the condition. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that taking cranberry supplements -- not drinking cranberry juice -- may help those affected by acid reflux maintain general digestive health.
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Chronic acid reflux can damage the lining of your esophagus and cause serious health problems ranging from esophageal ulcers to cancer. The procyanidins in cranberries have been studied for their beneficial effects on breast, prostate and colon cancer. They may also be useful in protecting against cancer of the esophagus -- a study conducted at Ohio State University in 2008 found that cranberry extract made esophageal cancer cells weaker and blocked their acid-fueled reproduction. More research is needed, however, before cranberry extracts can be used to help prevent esophageal cancer in high-risk individuals or those affected by severe acid reflux.
Anything that irritates your esophagus or causes its muscular valve to relax can provoke acid reflux. Although individual tolerance levels vary, common triggers include eating large meals, lying down or exercising after eating, stress, smoking and drinking alcohol. Acidic foods and beverages also tend to aggravate the condition, which is why those affected by recurrent acid reflux are generally advised to avoid citrus fruits and juices. Cranberry juice isn't quite as acidic as orange juice, but its acid levels are high enough that it's more likely to trigger acid reflux than it is to relieve symptoms.
Cranberry juice may not be useful in preventing acid reflux or treating its symptoms, but it's long been considered helpful in preventing recurrent urinary tract infections. While it was originally thought that cranberry juice makes urine acidic enough to kill the bacteria that causes these infections, it's now known that the berry's procyanidins prevent bacteria from adhering to the lining of your urinary tract in the first place. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements can be equally effective at preventing urinary tract infections.
- American College of Gastroenterology: Acid Reflux
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Cranberry
- FEMS Immunology and Medical Microbiology: A High Molecular Mass Constituent of Cranberry Juice Inhibits Helicobacter Pylori Adhesion to Human Gastric Mucus
- Gastroentérologie Clinique et Biologique: Does H. Pylori Infection or Its Eradication Play a Role in Gastroeosphageal Reflux Disease?
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: Cranberry Proanthocyanidins Induce Apoptosis and Inhibit Acid-Induced Proliferation of Human Esophageal Adenocarcinoma Cells
- Journal of Carcinogenesis: MicroRNA Alterations in Barrett's Esophagus, Esophageal Adenocarcinoma, and Esophageal Adenocarcinoma Cell Lines Following Cranberry Extract Treatment: Insights for Chemoprevention
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.