Cranberry Juice Can Effectively Reduce Heart Disease
Three glasses of cranberry juice just might keep the cardiologist at bay. That’s the suggestion of a small new study presented March 24 at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans. Researchers from the University of Scranton suggested that nutrients found in cranberry juice can effectively reduce the risk of heart disease — in some cases, up to 40 percent — mostly by increasing levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol. The juice was also shown to increase blood levels of antioxidant nutrients by up to 121 percent.
“It is one of the most important fruit juices you can drink — with protective qualities that can make an important difference in your health, particularly your heart health,” says Joe Vinson, the researcher who presented the findings. Vinson’s research was fully funded by the Cranberry Institute.
Before you race out and buy that year’s supply of cranberry juice, the news isn’t all good. Those who drank sweetened cranberry juice — the kind you find on most supermarket shelves — experienced a rise in triglycerides, which are dangerous to the heart.
While Vinson suggests the solution is to drink your juice artificially sweetened, not all nutritionists agree that’s the best advice.
“I think the best thing you can do is eat whole fresh fruits — and to make cranberries one of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables you eat every day since we know that, in their natural form, with nothing added, these foods have heart-healthy qualities, without any risk of adverse effects,” says Gyni Holland, a nutritionist at the New York University School of Medicine.
The study also found the amount of cranberry juice you consume is directly related to how much protection you receive. For those who had just one eight-ounce serving daily, Vinson says there was little in the way of health benefits seen in this study. Significant differences in both antioxidant levels and HDL cholesterol were not seen until two to three glasses of juice were consumed daily.
The research involved 11 women and eight men, all diagnosed with high cholesterol (on average 250 milligrams per deciliter), and none were taking any cholesterol medication. Normal cholesterol is below 200 mg/dl.
Ten of the participants were assigned to drink cranberry juice containing an artificial sweetener and no added sugar, while the remaining nine drank juice sweetened with corn syrup. All the drinks contained 27 percent fruit juice, the average amount commonly found in many grocery store brands.
During the first month of the 90-day trial, each volunteer drank one daily eight-ounce serving of juice. The second month they consumed two glasses a day, and the third month three glasses daily. At the conclusion of each of the three months, Vinson measured their total cholesterol, their HDL, and their triglycerides.
He also measured levels of antioxidants — nutrients that protect our heart by blocking certain types of cell damage caused by molecules generated by smoking and pesticide exposure.
“After one month there was no change in any of the participants. At two servings a day, triglyceride levels rose marginally, but only in those drinking sweetened cranberry juice,” says Vinson.
However, once intake rose to two glasses daily, antioxidant levels also rose by 111 percent; when three glasses a day were consumed, Vinson reports, it climbed to a whopping 121 percent in both types of juices.
What’s more, the HDL or “good” cholesterol of those drinking three glasses of either juice per day jumped up by 10 percent.
“That’s equal to approximately a 40 percent reduction in heart disease,” he says.
According to Holland, the real message in this study still remains that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health.
“I wouldn’t run out and buy cranberry juice necessarily — but I would make every effort to include cranberries along with all types of fruits and vegetables in your diet,” says Holland, who also reminds us that the flesh as well as the juice of a fruit yields important health benefits.
Also important to note, says Holland, is that the study was not a controlled trial and there was virtually no attention paid to any changes in the participants’ diet or exercise regimens.
Moreover, she notes, they were not questioned as to any lifestyle or other changes that could have affected the study outcome.