Cranberry Juice Beats Extract for Fighting Infection

cranberry juice natural medicine photo

Photo: Half Chinese/CC BY 2.0

Just between you and me, ladies, what do you do when you feel that irritating burn, knowing it can only mean a urinary tract infection? Do you run to the doctor's office for antibiotics, only to fight the yeast infection that sets in when drugs knock other systems out of balance? Then you probably haven't heard yet that cranberries can fight infections naturally, and very effectively.

If you reach for the cranberry extract, then you too will be interested to learn that researchers have now shown that natural cranberry juice beats the extract at fighting infections. There is more to this medicine than meets the eye.Researchers at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute have furthered the body of research that proves cranberries are effective at preventing and treating urinary tract infections. What they found echoes a common scientific motif: when we attempt to isolate the "healthy" molecule, we get less than expected. The cranberry juice in its entirety is more effective than the proanthocyanidins (PACs) extracted from cranberries.

PACs are flavonoids, complex organic molecules that -- like the name implies -- lend rich flavors to the foods containing them. Terri Camesano, professor of chemical engineering at WPI, says:

For a while, the field focused on these PACs, but the data shows that they aren't the silver bullet.

Camesano's team examined the mechanism used by the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections to adhere to the lining of the urinary tract. These bacteria, a type of E. coli, have small hair-like appendages that hook onto cells. When enough bacteria can hook on, they form a biofilm and infection sets in.

When researchers incubated E. coli either in cranberry juice or in the presence of PACs, they found that only cranberry juice completely eliminated biofilm formation. The E. coli exposed to PACs had reduced biofilm formation only after extended exposure.

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