Cranberries (botanical name, Vaccinium macrocarpon) are basically a cluster of perennially growing undersized shrubs or crawling vines belonging to the sub-genus Oxycoccus in the genus Vaccinium. According to a number of ways of classification, Oxycoccus is considered to be a genus by itself. This plant species may be found growing in acidic swamps all over the region having cooler climatic conditions in the northern hemisphere.
Small shrubs or creeping vines, cranberries grow up to a length of two meters (7 feet) and about 5 cm to 20 cm (2 inches to 8 inches) in height and have thin, sinewy stems which bear little evergreen leaves. The stems are not densely wooded, while the blooms of the plant have a deep pink hue. The petals of the flowers are remarkably recoiled which make the style and stamens completely exposed as well as forward pointing. Flowers of cranberry are pollinated by bees. This herb bears fruits, which are actually berries that are bigger compared to the diminutive leaves of the plant. When they appear, the berries are white, but their color changes to dark red when they are completely ripened. The berries of cranberry are edible and have a bitter flavour, which may even prevail over the sugariness of the fruit.
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Also known as the trailing swamp cranberry, the American cranberry is botanically known as Vaccinium macrocarpon Ait., belonging to the plant family Ericaceae. Several diversities of cranberry are grown in natural or artificially created swamps all over the United States, particularly in Washington and Massachusetts. The fruits of cranberry have been held in high esteem for long owing to their pleasing, but sour taste and they have already become a basis in preparing relishes, sauces as well as jellies that are particularly preferred during the time of Thanksgiving.
Several people intake three fluidounces or more of the cocktail (containing 33 per cent of the pure juice) every day as a preventive measure, while there are others who consume about 12 fluidounces to 32 fluidounces of the cocktail to treat urinary tract infection (UTI). On the other hand, capsules enclosing dehydrated cranberry powder are also available now and six such capsules are as good as three fluidounces of the cranberry fruit juice cocktail. These capsules enclose additional fiber and relatively less sugar compared to the cocktail. These days one may also purchase cranberry juice cocktail that is synthetically sweetened. In addition, theoretically, one can also consume fresh or even frozen cranberries - in effect, 1.5 ounces of fresh or frozen cranberries is equal to consuming 3 fluidounces of the juice cocktail. Nevertheless, in reality, it is not possible to take fresh or frozen cranberries as they are extremely acidic as well as sour tasting. A proper product of cranberry does appear to be a helpful supplement in preventing as well as treating urinary tract infections.
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It is believed that the pilgrims in America enjoyed eating dishes prepared with cranberry during their maiden Thanksgiving in 1621. Gradually, this type of cranberry dishes turned out to be a national custom in the United States. However, this happened only following General Ulysses S. Grant ordering that these dishes be served to the Union troops during the American Civil War. Native tribes in America employed cranberries in the form of a dye. A cocktail prepared with cranberry juice is also commercially available. As pure cranberry juice is very sour or acidic in taste, the cocktail is prepared by adding sugar and water to it.
In the 1840s, German researchers found out that the urine of individuals who have consumed cranberries contains hippuric acid, a chemical that combats bacteria. Studies undertaken in recent times endorse the theory that consuming cranberries or drinking the juice of these berries may help in avoiding or combating urinary tract infections. In effect, hippuric acid thwarts the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli) from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract. In addition to hippuric acid, cranberry also encloses other chemical substances, such as arbutin that facilitates in combating yeast infections. Some people also use these berries in the form of a 'urinary deodorant'. Indigenous tribes of North America are believed to have prepared poultices with cranberries to heal their wounds. Thus, the American pilgrims who employed cranberries to cure fevers were not wrong or mistaken. In fact, these berries contain a high amount of vitamin C too.
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The fruits of cranberry are extremely antioxidant, partially owing to chemical substances called proanthocyanidins (a type of flavonoids present in plants). The antioxidants in cranberries forage harmful elements in the body called free radicals. It is known that toxic substances present in the environment, such as ultraviolet (UV) rays, air pollution, smoking cigarettes and radiation may augment the number of free radicals in our body and these are believed to facilitate the aging process, in addition to developing several health problems, including infections, heart ailments and even cancer. Antioxidants have the ability to neutralize/ combat free radicals and also lessen or even facilitate prevention of a number of damages caused by them. Cranberries are also a very good source of vitamin C, which is a vital antioxidant. The juice extracted from cranberry fruits (berries) is every effective in treating scurvy as well as alleviating fevers. In addition, cranberries also enclose a strong vasodilator (any nerve or medication that dilates the blood vessels) and, hence, have been employed in treating breathing difficulties.
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Cranberry is indigenous to North America. This species requires a marshy or swampy soil for optimum growth.
Way back in 1923, following tests, scientists in America demonstrated that the urine of people who consumed cranberries or drank their juice in significant amounts became more acidic. Since bacteria prefer an alkaline base for their growth, scientists undertaking these studies conjectured that taking a diet that comprised cranberries may possibly be effective in preventing as well as treating persistent urinary tract infections or UTI. In effect, women mostly suffer from this medical condition and it frequently results in substantial uneasiness. Till the sulfa medications and antibiotics arrived in the market, traditional medical treatment of urinary tract infections was by and large fruitless.
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Women who have been enduring urinary tract infections and keen on a potential therapy started consuming significant amounts of commercially available cranberry juice cocktail and subjectively reported highly pleasing results. Soon, the recommendations of treating UTI spread, by word of mouth as well as through intermittent articles published in regional journals. According to one such article, women patients who drank about six ounces of cranberry juice twice daily also experienced relief from the symptoms of persistent kidney inflammation. Nevertheless, a study undertaken in 1967 demonstrated that drinking the commercially available cranberry juice cocktail did not sufficiently make the urine acidic so as to become effective enough to combat bacteria. However, this type of pessimistic finding did not seem to influence the consumption of the product adversely by people suffering from urinary tract infections, as they continued to believe in the usefulness of the product.
Studies undertaken later have provided us with proof that the usefulness of the juice extracted from cranberry fruits is not owing to its aptitude to make the urine acidic, but owing to a completely diverse system. Apparently, cranberry juice has the ability to slow down bacteria's propensity to stick to the epithelial cells in the lining of the urinary tract, thereby making the condition less conducive for bacterial growth that characteristically causes urinary tract infections. Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most common among the bacteria that cause UTI and it produces two elements that are called adhesins, which result in the microorganism to stick to the cells lining the urinary tract to multiply or develop very fast.
The ability of bacteria to stick to the cells lining the urinary tract is slowed down by two elements present in the juice extracted from cranberry juice. Fructose is among the different anti-adhesin elements, while the other is a polymeric compound of mysterious temperament. Among the several fruit juices which have been studied, only cranberry and blueberry - both belonging to the same genus, Vaccinium - contain this unidentified polymeric compound, which is an elevated molecular-weight halting biological substance. Apart from such anti-adhesin aspects, cranberries also enclose several types of carbohydrates and fiber, in addition to some plant acids, counting quinic, and benzoic, citric and malic.
A research group in Israel examined the chemical elements present in several fruit juices. During their course of research, they detected fructose, an ordinary sugar found in numerous fruit juices, possessed a number of anti-adherence impact on or the factor that neutralizes sticking power of bacteria. In addition, these scientists also discovered that a non-dialyzable polymeric compound separated from the juice extracted from cranberries, as well as the juice of blue berries, possessed extremely strong consequences. Publishing their findings in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1991, these Israeli scientists replicated the findings of the earlier researches and corroborated the results.
Further studies undertaken in laboratories hinted that ingestion of cranberries also thwarted a different microorganism called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) from sticking to the cell walls. In effect, H. pylori is a bacterium that has the aptitude to result in stomach ulcers and, therefore, it is likely that cranberries may finally prove to have a vital role in preventing this medical condition. Additionally, these researches have implied that cranberries may perhaps facilitate in preventing bacteria from sticking to gums and the region around the teeth.
The standard dosage of tablets or capsules containing concentrated juice of cranberry fruit extracts is one tablet or capsule taken twice to four times every day. Taking a number of glasses (totaling 16 ounces) of superior-quality cranberry juice, not the cocktail every day may have the same effect as taking the concentrated extracts of cranberry fruits.
Cranberry juice concentrate is known to be a safe herbal medication without any adverse side effects and owing to this it may be given to women during pregnancy as well as nursing mothers. However, it is important not to use cranberry in the form of an alternative for antibiotics when any individual is suffering from severe infection of the urinary tract.
Ingesting medical preparations with cranberry may result in stomach disorder or diarrhea when taken in large amounts. In case you find any of these symptoms continuing or worsening, you ought to contact your pharmacist without delay. Although it is rare, but some people using cranberry remedies may experience abdominal pain or acute stomach aches. If you experience any of these side effects, contact your doctor straight away. Rarely, this herbal remedy may also result in very grave allergies. Nevertheless, seek immediate medical help if you experience any symptoms of allergy, such as rash, acute dizziness, breathing problems, itching or swelling of the face, throat and/ or tongue.
Earlier, people believed that cranberry helped to treat urinary tract infection (UTI) by turning the urine acidic and, hence, it was helpful in preventing bacterial growth. However, present day researchers do not deem in this justification to be correct. Presently, the researchers deem that a number of chemicals present in cranberries actually prevent bacteria from binding to the cells lining the urinary tract, the place where they are likely to grow or multiply. Nevertheless, cranberry does not appear to possess the aptitude to discharge or get rid of bacteria which has been sticking to the urinary tract cell lining from before. This may throw light on the reason why this herb is probably useful in averting infections of the urinary tract, but perhaps not effective in curing the infection.
In fact, in addition to cranberry, several other vegetables and fruits also enclose considerable amounts of salicylic acid, which forms a vital element in aspirin. Consuming the juice extracted from cranberry on a regular basis enhances the level of salicylic acid in the body. It has been established that salicylic acid has the aptitude to lessen swellings, avoid clotting of blood and also possesses anti-tumor attribute.