Summer 2001 Issue — Health and Wellness with Cranberries

R&D Director, Ocean Spray Ingredient Technology Group

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As interest in the link between diet and health gathers pace, many consumers are actively seeking methods of reducing the risk of both major and minor illnesses. Fuelled by this concern and supported by extensive scientific research, nutraceutical products continue to stimulate great interest and demonstrate potential for future growth.

Fruits have long been recognized as providing general health benefits and represent one of the most established and trusted nutraceutical product sectors. The cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, is attracting particularly widespread media and industry attention due to its health benefits. Available to the consumer in an ever-increasing number of food products, and now in capsule form, this versatile red berry is now recognized as a key ingredient in the rapidly expanding nutraceutical sector.

The cranberry has recently become popular with UK consumers due to the increased popularity of Ocean Spray juice drinks - this trend is also rapidly extending into Europe, too. Its appealing bright red appearance, tangy taste and versatility, combined with a growing number of associated health benefits, have made this little berry an exceptional success with consumers and manufacturers alike.

Continuous product development by food and drink manufacturers has seen cranberry applications move from beverages and mineral waters into dairy and even confectionary products. The most recent development for the berry sees manufacturers exploiting its health-providing properties to capitalize on the growing supplement market.

Here, Dr Len Kasang of Ocean Spray Ingredients Technology Group, which boasts 80% of the North American cranberry crop, outlines the most recent findings of the health benefits of cranberries.

Left: The cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is attracting particularly widespread media and industry attention due to its health benefits.




Widening range of health benefits in cranberries

Urinary tract infections - the painful truth

Urinary tract infections (UTI) pose a significant health concern for women:

  • A estimated 40% of women report having had at least one UTI at some time in their lives.
  • UTI's are the second leading cause of lost workdays for women and are responsible for approximately 9.6 million doctor visits annually.
  • UTI affects a wide age and broad population of women. African-American women are five times as likely as white women to get UTI's.
  • Health care costs associated with UTI's exceed $1 billion per year.
    [Source: Gallup Poll, 1999]

Since 1984, when initial research was carried out into cranberry juice's unique benefits on urinary tract health, many subsequent studies have confirmed that cranberries have numerous health benefits, the more many being its 'anti-adhesion' effect on certain bacteria. Ocean Spray® Cranberry Juice Cocktail contains proanthocyanidins, more commonly known as condensed tannins, which actually disable certain harmful bacteria that cause infection in the body so that the 'bugs don't stick'.

A catalogue of scientific research proves the positive effect of cranberries' properties on UTI's:

  • May 1991: research by Tel Aviv University, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that a compound in cranberries of an 'unknown nature' prevents certain E.coli from adhering to the bladder's lining.
  • March 1994: results of a clinical trial conducted at Harvard medical School, Boston, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicated that regular consumption of Ocean Spray® Cranberry Juice Cocktail reduced the incidence of bacterial in the urine of elderly women.
  • 1997: Weber State University published findings in the Journal of Family Practice that sexually active women between the ages of 18 and 45 who daily consume a cranberry dietary supplement for six months had a significantly lower risk of UTI's than women taking a placebo.
  • February 1998: examining the effects of cranberry juice on the growth and development of E.coli in the laboratory, researchers of the Tulane University School of Medicine found that the hair-like structures that E.coli used to attach to cells in the bladder were inhibited from growing in the presence of cranberry juice. This was published in theJournal of Urology.
  • October 1998: published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Rutgers-led scientists identified the proanthocyanidins in a daily 10 ounce (250ml) glass of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail which are Responsible for promoting urinary tract health.

Beyond urinary tract health

Best known for helping maintain urinary tract health, emerging scientific research now suggests that the cranberries anti-adhesion mechanism may work beyond the bladder in fighting certain bacteria infection in other parts of the body, including stomach ulcers and gum disease. Additional research indicates that cranberries may also have benefits by other mechanisms in the areas of cardiovascular health and cancer.

Cardiovascular health

Recent research continues to support the potential benefits of cranberry juice in protecting against cholesterol oxidation. In a study conducted in April 2000 by the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, cranberry juice was tested for its ability to inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol and proved to be an effective antioxidant. These results, though only in their initial stages, suggest a positive benefit of cranberry juice in maintaining cardiovascular health.

Right: The cranberry's appealing bright red appearance, tangy taste and versatility, combined with a growing number of associated health benefits, have made this little berry an exceptional success with consumers and manufacturers alike.

Stomach ulcers

Preliminary research carried out at Tel Aviv University in September 2000, suggests that the cranberries anti-adhesion effect fights H.pylori, the bacteria which causes stomach ulcers. The study, using human gastric mucus cells and a cranberry fraction, suggests that the cranberries anti-adhesion effect may prevent the bacteria from attaching to the stomach lining and causing an ulcer. The findings further showed that the cranberry could possibly reverse the adhesion of these bacteria.

Breast cancer

Epidemiological evidence has long supported the role of naturally occurring anti-cancer agents in fruits and vegetables in reducing the risk of many diseases, including cancer and heart disease. In terms of powerful cancer-fighting antioxidants, cranberry seeds have been found to contain a higher level of tocotrienols than in any other plant. Cranberry seed oil contains significant amounts of these potent forms of Vitamin E without the palmitic acid found in other plants containing tocotrienols. Cranberries are a rich source of a variety of other compounds, too, such as flavonoids, which may have anti-cancer activity.

This belief is supported by the results of a recent study on the effect of cranberry juice and cranberry products on human breast cancer cell growth in animals. ii This project is the first to document that regular consumption of cranberry products may inhibit the development of breast cancer in animals. Whilst the results are very preliminary at this stage, the study suggests that cranberry products could have cancer-fighting properties in humans.

Gum disease

The original discovery of the UTI benefit of the cranberry in 1984 prompted an increased interest in other parts of the body, as explained above, where the anti-adhesion mechanism could be of benefit.

It appears that this anti-adhesion property may also work in the oral cavity. Research from Tel Aviv University, published in The Journal of the American Dental Association suggests that compounds in cranberries may prevent certain bacteria found in the mouth from adhering to teeth and to other bacteria. One of these bacteria is associated with periodontal gum disease. More research is required here to provide an optimal product to deliver this benefit.

Research into further benefits of cranberries is ongoing - a new study from Journal of the American Medical Association supports a potentially broader range of benefits for fighting bacteria, such as staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella enteritidis, as well as E.coli.

Just add cranberry

Food manufacturers taking advantage of the healthy trend are responding to consumer demand for natural fruit-based ingredients. Ongoing scientific research into the health benefits of cranberries, combined with the phenomenal growth of the functional foods sector, makes the fruit an ideal ingredient for a wealth of applications. Recent European product innovations to employ the fruit include:

  • Renshaw Scott's New Yorker breakfast bar (UK)
  • Quaker's Cruesli (Netherlands)
  • Kölln's Feinschmecker Muesli (Germany)
  • Actilife's Bioplus A+C+E (Switzerland).

Moreover, product application is now diversifying into the vitamins and supplements sector where concentrated cranberry is available in capsule or powder form (Nature's aid Concentrated Cranberry Extract tablets (UK), Jemo Pharm's Vitabutin® (Denmark)).

In terms of usage and awareness, although generally on the increase, it does vary from country to country. In the US, for example, a survey carried out by Gallup in 1998, revealed that use of vitamin and mineral supplements had increased in the last seven years, particularly among adults 50-64 years of age, with 27% of US adults taking herbal supplements. In Europe, however, the growth in vitamin and mineral supplements has been much slower to take off. In 1998, the overall market was worth US$1,874.6m with the German market accounting for approximately 50% of this. iv In fact, between 1994 and 1998; the German market declined in Germany and Belgium but remained stable in Spain. The UK and French markets, however, experienced the most growth in this period.

The future's cranberry

Given its wide application and the increasing attention from scientific bodies into its health benefits, the future of cranberries appears to be assured. Rising concern over the nutritional content of daily diet, busy lifestyles, an ageing population and growing awareness of the importance of healthy nutrition are all contributory factors driving demand and growth. The cranberry is well placed to respond to the needs of the consumer, for a tasty, attractive, healthy product, as well as the manufacturer looking for a versatile ingredient whether in the functional foods or supplements sector.

For further information, please contact:

Ocean Spray ITG,
PO Box 44,
WA14 3HF
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 161 925 4709
Fax: +44 (0) 161 925 4701

Web: and


For press information, please contact:

Pam Greenway / Lynda Searby,
Barrett Dixon Bell,
Craig Court,
25 Hale Road,
WA14 2EY
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 161 925 4700
Fax: +44 (0) 161 925 4701

E-mail: /


Dr Wasef Nawar, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, September 2000

Lakeville-Middleboro, Mass., 18 April 2000, University of Wester Ontario

1998 Gallup Study of Nutrient Knowledge and Consumption

Data monitor and Reuters Business Insight. Data monitor: Functional Adult Confectionary 1999 and European Nutraceuticals 1998, Ingredients Health and Nutrition, February 2000

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