Cranberry juice has evolved, much like Aloe vera, as a quintessential American folk remedy; so well-known as a cure for urinary infections that it prompted scientists to begin to investigate its value more than seventy years ago.
Recent studies have shown it can reduce the ability of E. coli to adhere to the lining of the bladder and urethra, reducing the potential for urinary tract infections (UTIs). Cranberries are also high in antioxidants and contain a potent vasodilator.
Cranberry's medicinal properties have been recognized for centuries. Native Americans used raw cranberries as a wound dressing. Early settlers from England learned to use the berry both raw and cooked for a number of ailments including appetite loss, digestive problems, blood disorders, and scurvy (vitamin C deficiency that causes weakness, gum disease, and spontaneous bleeding in the skin).
The cranberry fruit is high in antioxidants, partly from substances called proanthocyanidins. Antioxidants scavenge damaging particles in the body known as free radicals. Environmental toxins (including ultraviolet light, radiation, cigarette smoking, and air pollution) can increase the number of free radicals in the body, which are believed to contribute to the aging process as well as the development of a number of health problems such as heart disease, cancer, and infections.
Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause. Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C as well, another important antioxidant. The juice is excellent against scurvy and to allay fevers.
Cranberries also contain a potent vasodilator and have been used for breathing problems. Several studies have measured high levels of antioxidants in people after drinking cranberry juice.
Research is underway to determine if the antioxidant ability of cranberries will translate into protection from heart disease. Adding to cranberry's potential health benefits, a recent study found that an extract of cranberry inhibited an enzyme associated with a reduction in cancer risk.