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Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon [Latin]) is the herb of choice for preventing and treating urinary tract infection (UTI). Cranberries are also high in vitamin C, and have antioxidant and antibacterial effects in the body.

Cranberries contain antioxidant substances called proanthocyanidins, which are members of the chemical family known as anthocyanosides. Proanthocyanidins are antioxidant compounds that prevent urinary tract infections by keeping bacteria from attaching to cells in the bladder. Cranberry juice helps reduce urine odor, and may be beneficial to those with UTI or other sources of incontinence, as well as those with bladder catheterization.

Like other antioxidants, proanthocyanidins help prevent diseases linked to free radical damage, such as heart disease, strokes, cancer, and macular degeneration. According to researchers at Tufts University in Boston, the best antioxidant sources are dark-colored fruits and berries, such as cranberries, that contain generous amounts of anthocyanosides. Studies have shown that eating berries containing anthocyanosides can be especially beneficial to the eyes, and significantly improve symptoms of cataracts, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. Laboratory studies suggest that cranberry’s antioxidant properties may even help prevent cancer.

Cranberries are antibacterial, and research has shown that they may help control the growth of E. coli, Proteus bacteria, and H. pylori (a bacteria linked to peptic ulcers and stomach cancer). Research has shown that cranberry may have antiviral and antifungals properties as well. Because cranberry fights bacteria, it has been suggested that cranberry juice be used as a mouthwash. However, if you want to try gargling with cranberry juice, try a sugar-free variety; cranberry juice often contains a lot of sugar, and may actually work against good oral hygiene by promoting tooth decay.

Natural cranberry juice is too sour to drink, so sugar is added to make “cranberry juice cocktail.” If you want to get the benefits of cranberry without the sugar, you can try one of the sugar-free varieties of cranberry juice available, or eat dried cranberries, which are rich in fiber as well. There are also cranberry tinctures and cranberry capsules, such as the brand Cranactin, which are available at most health food stores.

Cranberries and cranberry juice are safe and delicious, but people with diabetes or glucose intolerance should drink only sugar-free cranberry juice or, better yet, take cranberry capsules, to avoid a high sugar intake. Also, people with a history of oxalate kidney stones should not drink more than 1 liter of cranberry juice each day, or they may increase their risk of kidney stones; although cranberry juice is reported to decrease urine levels of calcium, it actually increases urine levels of oxalate. Cranberry juice may increase vitamin B12 absorption in people who are taking drugs that reduce stomach acid, such as lansoprazole.

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