Going far beyond their bright addition to a traditional Thanksgiving meal, the cranberry provides some surprising liver health benefits.
Whether being served alongside turkey or mixed with seltzer and a wedge of lime, cranberries are an autumn favorite. Most people think of drinking cranberry juice – unsweetened of course – to be a natural remedy for urinary tract problems. However, few realize the benefits cranberry can exert on keeping the liver healthy.
About the Cranberry
The slightly sweet, notably tart cranberry is often referred to as one of nature’s super foods. This title is due to cranberry’s high concentration of antioxidants and various other health-affirming characteristics. More specifically, cranberries contain a unique and potent subclass of antioxidants called proanthocyanidins, which are coveted for their ability to quench free radicals and amplify other antioxidants.
Native to the United States and Canada, cranberries are typically harvested between September and October via wet or dry methods. The more common wet harvest is done by flooding cranberry beds, beating the fruit off their vines and then collecting the floating fruit. Dry harvested fruit is obtained by combing the vines with a picking machine.
Cranberry and the Liver
Drinking cranberry juice and eating cranberries are both liver-friendly practices. There are four reasons that cranberries support liver health:
1. Vitamin C – Cranberry juice is very high in Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. Vitamin C thins and decongests bile, allowing the liver to metabolize fats more efficiently. This function is especially valuable for those who have excessive fat in their liver.
2. Glutathione – Vitamin C boosts production of glutathione, the body’s universal antioxidant. The liver needs glutathione during both stages of the detoxification process.
3. Chelation – Proanthocyanidins have a strong iron chelating capability, meaning that cranberry’s antioxidants binds to toxic drugs and metals making it easier for the liver to remove.
4. Free Radical Protection – Full of potent antioxidants, cranberry juice helps protect the liver from free radicals by neutralizing these liver cell damaging compounds.
Three Cranberry Studies
Although there are not many peer-reviewed, double-blind studies evaluating the liver benefits of cranberries, three scientific studies demonstrate the benefits of this fruit.
1. As published in the June 2012 edition of the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, researchers in Belarus evaluated the ability of several natural substances in protecting the liver from injury by a known liver toxin. They found that the best liver protection was obtained when adding cranberry flavonoids to the preventative regimen.
2. As published in the March-April 2011 edition of the journal BioFactors, American researchers were investigating the mechanism behind cranberry’s antibacterial properties. Their study confirmed cranberry’s strong iron-chelating effect – a highly desirable characteristic for those with liver disease who need help with liver detoxification.
3. As published in the September 2006 edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, American scientists evaluated cranberry’s antioxidant activity. Tested on a line of human liver cancer cells, they found that cranberry was a potent antioxidant and anti-proliferative in liver tissue, characteristics that help defend against cellular damage and prevent the growth of cancer cells.
Cranberry juices or foods are generally safe for consumption, but there are several potential issues that could get in the way of its healthfulness.
• Sugar – Because cranberries are naturally very tart, many recipes add sugar to increase their palatability. Too high of a sugar content can interfere with cranberry’s health benefits – and may be hazardous to those with obesity or high blood sugar issues.
• Oxalates – Besides containing proanthocyanidins, cranberry is also high in oxalates. For those at high risk for kidney stones, high oxalate levels should be avoided.
• Warfarin – Some sources suggest refraining from eating or drinking cranberry if also taking warfarin or other blood-thinning medication. However, several experts believe this to be based on faulty reports.
Upon discovering a food with health benefits, many people want to know how much of it they should consume. Alas, eating certain foods for health is not an exact science, but rather a suggestion for how to make the smartest choices. Adding cranberries to different foods, preparing a cranberry-based dish or drinking pure cranberry juice are all healthful ventures. However, there is no measurement dictating how many cranberries or how many ounces of juice are needed to benefit the liver.
The beautiful, little reddish-purple fruits harvested in the fall offer those with liver concerns a compelling case. Between helping the liver metabolize fat, detoxifying harmful substances and protecting liver cells from damage, cranberries appear to support the liver’s health in a myriad of ways. While it is important to beware of sugar and oxalate content and consult with a physician if taking a blood-thinning medication first, increasing cranberry consumption appears to be a wise, liver-friendly dietary decision.
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