A natural compound called proanthocyanidins has been making headlines this past year after a study revealed some surprising health benefits. Let’s take a closer look at these cranberry-derived compounds.
What Are Cranberry Proanthocyanidins?
Proanthocyanidins, also known as PACs, are a class of polyphenols found in a wide variety of plants. Lately, researchers have been looking at one specific source of proanthocyanidins: cranberries.
Cranberries are particularly rich with proanthocyanidins. Recent research has linked these chemical compounds to some surprising health benefits.
You’ve probably heard that cranberries and cranberry juice are two of the most effective ways to prevent UTIs. Research over the past few years has shown us that proanthocyanidins are the compounds in cranberry juice that cause this UTI-fighting effect.
For years, we’ve known that cranberries are healthy for your body in various ways. Now, thanks to this latest research on proanthocyanidins, we know a little more about why cranberries are healthy.
What Are the Health Benefits of Proanthocyanidins?
The main health benefit of proanthocyanidins is to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs). Studies have linked cranberries to a reduced risk of UTIs for years. this study published in March 2009, for example, explained exactly how the chemicals in cranberries prevent UTIs.
Specifically, those cranberry-derived chemicals – like proanthocyanidins – prevent UTIs by targeting infection-causing bacteria. They attach to cells that line the urinary tract, encouraging the infection-causing bacteria to be safely removed from the body.
Prior to 2009, it was generally assumed that the acidity in cranberries helped prevent infection-causing bacteria. Further research revealed it was more related to the proanthocyanidins than the acidity.
Proanthocyanidins and E. Coli
E. coli is typically the bacteria that causes a UTI. When E. coli bacteria adheres to the cells lining the urinary tract, it’s the first step towards the development of a UTI.
Researchers estimate that approximately 85% of UTIs are caused by this mechanism.
When you drink cranberry juice, the ingredients and chemicals within that juice eventually pass through your urinary tract.
Researchers discovered that proanthocyanidins (PACs) helped line the cell walls along your urinary tract, preventing E. coli from ever actually infecting your body.
Here’s what researchers in the 2009 study revealed:
“Paola Pinzón-Arango, Yatao Liu, and Terri Camesano, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Massachusetts, exposed E. coli grown in culture to either light cranberry juice cocktail or cranberry PACs and measured the adhesion forces between the bacteria and a silicon surface using atomic force microscopy. They demonstrated that the longer the bacteria were exposed to either the cranberry juice or the PACS the greater the decrease in bacterial attachment.”
Not All Cranberry Supplements Prevent Urinary Tract Infections
Research has generally revealed that you need 36mg of proanthocyanidins to prevent the bacterial adhesion that causes a UTI. That’s why many women (ad some men) prone to UTIs will take regular cranberry extract supplements.
Unfortunately, a study released earlier this year showed that all cranberry supplements are not created equal:
“Tests of seven popular cranberry-pill brands in the U.S. showed that most contained too little of the key bacteria-fighting ingredient to have any effect”, explained a news release on the study.
Researchers discovered that there was “a lot of variability in the quality and efficacy of cranberry supplements”. This makes it difficult for customers to make an intelligence choice when shopping for UTI-fighting supplements.
Only one of the seven supplements tested contained more than the necessary amount of proanthocyanidins. That supplement contained 175mg of proanthocyanidins per gram and was also shown to prevent bacterial growth in culture.
Four of the tested supplements contained less than 5mg of proanthocyanidins per gram and had no impact on bacterial infection.
Unfortunately, that study does not mention the brands that were tested – so we don’t know which one is the most effective.
Cranberries Aren’t the Only Source of Proanthocyanidins
Don’t like cranberries? Pure cranberry juice certainly has a strong flavor (that’s why most grocery store cranberry juice brands are cranberry “cocktails”, mixed with other fruit juices and sugars).
If you really don’t like cranberry juice, then you can get proanthocyanidins from other fruit sources – including blueberries, grape seeds, and chocolate.
As mentioned above, you’re going to want to look for supplements that contain approximately 175mg of proanthocyanidins per gram. At that dosage, it’s been shown to reduce the appearance of infections. It is also worthy to check out what else cranberries can be useful for which is an increasing trend, cranberry protein powder.
Cranberry Has a Long History of Medicinal Use
Cranberry is one of only three species of fruits native to North America. As mentioned above, we’ve known about the medicinal uses of cranberries for quite some time. Native Americans used cranberries to treat bladder and kidney problems for centuries, for example.
Today, we now know why cranberries are such an effective treatment for bladder and kidney problems: it’s the proanthocyanidins inside those cranberries that are doing all the heavy lifting.
Whether you’re prone to UTIs or you just want to prevent bladder and kidney problems, cranberry juice and proanthocyanidin supplements are a proven way to boost your urinary health.
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