Cranberry extracts may boost gut health, prevent heart disease

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Cranberries, often celebrated for their bold flavor and vibrant color, are gaining attention for their health benefits, particularly in promoting a healthy gut and preventing chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

A recent study conducted by Université Laval and the Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods (INAF) has shown that even a short period of consuming cranberry extracts can make a significant difference in gut health.

This small, tart fruit is packed with substances called polyphenols and oligosaccharides—types of natural compounds found in plants that have numerous health benefits.

Polyphenols, including tannins found abundantly in cranberries, are known for their antioxidant properties, which help the body fight off harmful free radicals. Oligosaccharides, on the other hand, are small fibers that nourish the good bacteria in our intestines.

The research, led by Professor Yves Desjardins of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences, explored how these compounds in cranberries affect the gut’s microbiota, the community of bacteria living in our intestines.

Their findings, published in the journal npj Biofilms and Microbiomes, revealed that cranberry extracts boost the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium. This particular bacterium is linked to a lower risk of diabetes and heart-related diseases.

Jacob Lessard-Lord, a postdoctoral fellow at INAF, noted the efficiency of cranberry extracts, saying, “Normally, these bacteria are stimulated by dietary fiber. However, we observed the same stimulating effect with cranberry extract at a dose almost 20 times lower than fiber.”

Another significant finding from the study is the positive effect of cranberry extracts on Akkermansia muciniphila, a type of bacteria that plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of the intestinal lining.

This bacteria helps reduce inflammation and strengthens the intestinal barrier, which is essential for protecting the body against harmful bacteria that might otherwise enter from the gut.

These discoveries are particularly relevant in the context of a Western diet, which is often high in processed foods and low in fiber, leading to various gut issues. This type of diet can disturb the balance of gut bacteria, inflame the intestinal lining, and weaken the intestinal barrier.

A compromised intestinal barrier can allow the passage of harmful substances like lipopolysaccharides (LPS) into the body, which are known to trigger inflammation and contribute to the development of metabolic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Incorporating cranberry extracts into a balanced diet could potentially alter this inflammatory process and improve the management of chronic diseases by enhancing the gut barrier and creating an anti-inflammatory environment in the gut.

For the study, around forty participants at INAF took a cranberry supplement in capsule form twice daily, which is equivalent to eating 60 grams of fresh cranberries daily.

Before and after the four-day trial period, the researchers collected blood, urine, and stool samples to analyze the effects of the supplement.

The promising results from this short trial have encouraged the research team to look into the long-term effects of cranberry extracts on gut health. “Seeing beneficial effects in just four days is quite promising,” remarked Lessard-Lord.

Although the response to cranberry extracts varied among participants, the overall positive impact suggests that further research could help tailor dietary recommendations to individual gut microbiota profiles, maximizing health benefits for different people.

This study not only highlights the potential of cranberries as a superfood but also emphasizes the importance of diet in managing and preventing chronic diseases through gut health.

If you care about heart disease, please read studies about a big cause of heart failure, and common blood test could advance heart failure treatment.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about a new way to repair human heart, and results showing drinking coffee may help reduce heart failure risk.

The research findings can be found in npj Biofilms and Microbiomes.

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