Study: Cranberries May Alleviate Gut Problems From Animal-Based Diets

Dive brief:

  • According to a study published online Sept. 8 in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, consuming whole cranberry powder may limit changes in the human gut microbiota from an animal-based diet. Led by researchers at Tufts University, an international team conducted a randomized, double-blind, crossover study of 11 healthy adults aged 25 to 54 with normal digestive function. They ate an animal-based control diet, plus 30 grams per day of a placebo powder, then an animal-based treatment diet, which included 30 grams per day of freeze-dried whole cranberry powder.

  • Researchers found that the cranberry-fortified diet showed fewer potentially negative changes to the microbiota. It also appears to limit secondary bile acids in the intestine that have been associated with colon and gastrointestinal cancer. Overall, the treatment regimen suggests that cranberries may help support a healthy gut microbiome, the researchers said.

  • “Among the 20 fruits most consumed in the American diet, we chose to study cranberries and the gut microbiome because they are among the fruits with high total phenol content,” said Oliver Chen, author of the study, in a press release. “An imbalance can increase the risk of several chronic diseases, including atherosclerosis, hypertension, kidney disease and type 2 diabetes. Identifying foods – like cranberries – that can help shape and support a healthier gut microbiome could have a remarkable impact on public health. “

Dive overview:

Cranberries have shown other health benefits, such as limiting urinary tract infections in women, improving vascular function and cholesterol profiles in an animal study, providing powerful antioxidants, reducing bacteria that can cause dental caries and potentially reducing the incidence of ulcers and cancer.

While the results of this new study would likely be of interest to many consumers looking to make dietary changes to improve their health, it’s hard to say how trustworthy the research is when there were only 11 participants. It might be more convincing if there were additional studies involving a much larger group.

As gut health is increasingly a trend that people care about, prebiotics have has generated interest as a way to introduce foods to promote the “good” bacteria already present in the digestive system. Probiotics, which are live bacteria added to the digestive system in the form of yogurt or kefir, along with other foods and supplements, are also said to help maintain a healthy gut, but their effectiveness has been questioned.

Since cranberries generally carry a halo of health due to all the other studies that have been done, it is likely that the industry will benefit from the results of this latest research. The Cranberry Institute helped fund the Tufts University study. Chief Executive Officer Terry Humfeld said his organization, on behalf of cranberry growers and operators, finds it exciting and rewarding to see new research on the potential benefits of consuming cranberries. The institute also tracks research related to cranberries on its website.

It is possible that as more research accumulates on the beneficial aspects of consuming cranberries, the market will respond by introducing the ingredient at times other than Thanksgiving. Most of the harvest takes place in September and October, and fresh fruit is usually available between September and December, according to the Cranberry Institute. Cranberries that aren’t packaged to be sold fresh are available year round as juice, gravy, and dried produce, so it’s possible for manufacturers to advertise their benefits at any time.

Cranberries have one more business advantage over other fruits. They are native to North America and have been cultivated commercially here since 1816.

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