Clayton's Health Facts: Cranberry.

Clayton South, SPN (ISSA), is a recognized expert in the bodybuilding / fitness industry with over 150 bodybuilding, fitness and nutrition publications to his credit.

Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is native to North America and was once considered an important food and medicine for many native Americans. The Native American Indians used the fruit for food, but also used it as a preservative for dried meat. They would pound salt-dried meat with cranberries and melted fat, then shape and store in animal skins. The berry was so versatile that they were also used for treating wounds and dying fabrics. They even created the first cranberry sauce by sweetening cranberries with maple sap.

Cranberries were originally named "crane berries", by white settlers, because of the appearance of the plant's bud and flower. They look like the neck, head and bill of cranes that trampled through the berry bogs. In time, it changed from "craneberry" to "cranberry".

Cranberries have been used to treat a variety of illnesses, including bladder infections. One cup of cranberries has 14 mg of vitamin C, 50 IU of vitamin A, 71 mg of potassium, and only 12 grams of carbohydrates. It is helpful for low carb diets because of the acidity. Foods that contain acids help lower the glycemic value of food, which in turn, helps to control insulin.

Women have been drinking cranberry juice for years as a traditional remedy for bladder infections and urinary tract health. In 1994, Harvard did a study that found cranberries contain tannins that reduce the bacteria that causes the infection. The tannins actually prevent E. coli, the main bacteria for these infections, from sticking to the walls of the bladder and kidney.

Research has recently indicated that cranberries are an excellent source of antioxidants. Cranberry juice was given to animals and they showed an increase in the interior blood vessel diameter. This suggests that cranberry juice may have a similar effect on blood flow in humans. Proanthocyanidins, a group of flavonoids found in cranberries, have been shown to strengthen capillaries in recent double-blind research.

Nutritionists and many in the medical community believe that a diet high in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of chronic disease. Recently, there have been and continue to be studies done on the effects of cranberries on cardiovascular health. Initial results show that drinking cranberry juice is a heart-healthy activity.

Cranberries also contain polyphenol compounds called flavonoids, which are responsible for the reduction in cardiovascular disease. The flavonoids inhibit blood clotting, promote vasodilation (increase interior blood vessel diameter, which improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure), and protects oxidation of cholesterol in the bloodstream (reducing atherosclerosis, or clogging of the arteries).

Lastly, cranberries are also a rich source of the flavonoid quercetin. It has been shown that quercetin effectively inhibits the development of both breast and colon cancer.