Put Cranberry Extract To Work In The Fight Against Cancer

Put Cranberry Extract To Work In The Fight Against Cancer!

The last ten years have seen an explosion in research looking at the anti-cancer properties of the humble cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon).

What researchers are finding is that the phytochemicals found in cranberry and cranberry extract work both separately and together to battle cancer in a number of ways. The identified active phytochemicals include proanthocyanidin oligomers, flavonol and anthocyanin glycosides and triterpenoids like ursolic acid.1

Each of these compounds has been found to inhibit cancer cell growth or in some cases, cause cancer cell death, either individually or in combination with one another.

But before we get to this exciting research on the anti-cancer benefits of cranberries and cranberry extract, let’s look at some of the traditional uses and positive health benefits of this nutritious fruit.

High ORAC antioxidant activity

Developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) unit, or “ORAC score” is a method of measuring the antioxidant capacity of different fruits, vegetables and supplements. Many scientists believe foods with higher ORAC scores will more effectively neutralize free radicals.

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Raw cranberries have an ORAC score of 9,584, which is higher than blueberries and raspberries. To put that in perspective, vegetable juice cocktail, which combines the juice of a variety of vegetables, has on ORAC score of just 548.2

The fact that cranberries have such a high ORAC score means they are powerful antioxidants. And, according to the free-radical theory of aging, cranberries and cranberry extract can slow the oxidative processes and free radical damage that contributes to age-related cellular degeneration and disease.

Proven urinary tract infection protection

Urinary tract infections (UTI’s) are extremely common in the U.S., resulting in approximately 7 million doctor visits and a million hospitalizations each year.3 Women are primarily affected and about 25% of all women in the U.S. have at least one UTI in their lifetime.4 Men can also get bladder and urinary tract infections, especially if they suffer from an enlarged prostate.

Additionally, a large percentage of individuals with spinal cord injuries suffer from UTI’s due to the use of indwelling catheters.

When it comes to treating UTI’s, antibiotics don’t always work. And to complicate matters, even if the antibiotic does work, it weakens the immune system, making it easier to get a subsequent infection. The good news is that cranberry extract can prevent UTI’s before they can take hold.

What is a UTI and how do you get them?

A urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection that causes painful urination and the feeling that your bladder is never completely empty. It can also cause fever and low back pain.

Adhesion of E. coli bacteria (a microorganism that lives in the digestive tract) to cells lining the urinary tract is the first step in the development of a UTI, and E. coli is the cause of about 85% of UTI’s and 90% of cases of acute kidney infections. The good news is that cranberry extract does a remarkable job of preventing the adhesion of E. coli bacteria to the cells that line the urinary tract.

According to researchers at the Washington University (WU) School of Medicine in St. Louis, a UTI starts when E. coli invade the bladder and penetrate a protective coating of the superficial cells that line the bladder. Once the E. coli is established in the bladder lining, the stage is set for infection.5

Proanthocyanidins found in cranberries prevent UTI’s

The proanthocyanidins found in cranberry differ from those found in other plants by their unique structures and very potent antibacterial and anti-adhesion activity.6 In the case of UTI’s, these proanthocyanidins prevent E. coli from adhering to the urethra and bladder.7

The cell wall of E. coli bacteria has tiny finger-like projections that contain complex molecules called lectins on their surfaces. These lectins are cellular glue that bind the bacteria to the bladder wall so they cannot be easily rinsed out by urination. But because proanthocyanidin molecules attach themselves to these lectins and fill up all of the bacterial anchoring sites, the bacteria can no longer stick to the bladder wall and are flushed away.

The likelihood of infection is significantly reduced because bacteria must first adhere to the mucosal lining before they can proliferate—and without the ability to stick, the bacteria cannot infect. {pagebreak)

Scientific studies

As mentioned before, the power of cranberry to prevent urinary tract and bladder infections is well documented. Here is just a short list of research studies that prove its effectiveness:

  • A study of 10 young women with recurrent bladder infections found that, compared with placebo, taking a capsule containing 400 mg of cranberry extract daily for three months significantly reduced new infections. Of the 21 bladder infections that arose, only six occurred among women taking cranberry extract supplements.8
  • A year-long Canadian study of 150 sexually active women found that cranberry juice and tablets significantly decreased the number of patients experiencing at least 1 symptomatic UTI/year compared with placebo. The study also found that taking cranberry was much more cost effective than taking antibiotics.9
  • A study published in early 2009 compared the effectiveness of cranberry extract with a low-dose of an antibiotic in the prevention of recurrent UTI’s in older women. In this study, 137 women who had two or more antibiotic-treated UTI’s in the previous year were given either 500 mg of cranberry extract or an antibiotic for six months. The researchers concluded that while both the antibiotic and cranberry extract successfully prevented recurring UTI’s, the antibiotic had more adverse side effects. Therefore, they recommend that women consider using cranberry extract—a natural, inexpensive and risk-free alternative to antibiotics—to prevent recurring UTI’s.10

Finally, the country of France has allowed food, drink, and dietary supplement manufacturers a “function use claim” to highlight the health benefits of products containing cranberry to consumers. Since 2004, the country has allowed the claim that the North American cranberry VM (Vaccinium macrocarpon) can help reduce the adhesion of certain E. coli bacteria to the urinary tract walls.

Cranberry extract and cancer

Indeed, the most exciting new research into the power of the phytochemicals found in cranberries is in the area of cancer prevention and cancer treatment. The anticancer properties of cranberries and cranberry extract are a new frontier in cancer research that is really starting to gain ground.

In 2008, researchers in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, published a detailed article examining the last 10 years of anticancer research involving the nutrients and phytochemicals found in cranberry. Their article, entitled Anticancer activities of cranberry phytochemicals: An update is exhaustive in scope and identifies more than 75 published research studies on the power of cranberries to fight cancer.11

Some of the highlights from this well-regarded scientific article include :

  • The triterpenoid ursolic acid found in cranberry fruit was shown to inhibit the proliferation of human liver cancer cells12 as well as tumor colony formation in colon tumor models and breast cancer cells.13
  • The flavonoid quercetin, which is abundant in cranberry extracts, inhibited the growth of human breast adenocarcinoma, human colon adenocarcinoma, and human chronic myelogenous leukemia cells.14
  • Other studies done on human tumor cell lines, including prostate, skin, brain, colon, lung and breast, also indicated that cranberry extract inhibited the growth of the cancer cells.15
  • Cranberry extract, along with other berry extracts, were studied for their antioxidant and anti-angiogenic (ways to stop the blood supply to the tumor) properties at the Laboratory of Molecular Medicine, Ohio State University. They were all found to have an anti-angiogenic effect on human skin cancer cells, and this effect was not shared by other antioxidants such as alpha-tocopherol.16
  • An in vivo study conducted by researchers at the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology, University of Western Ontario, Canada, examined the effect of cranberry extract on mice that had been injected with human breast tumor cells, colon cancer cells, and prostate cancer cells. In all cases the cranberry extract decreased the growth and metastasis of the cancer tumors.17

Cranberry fights cancer four ways

In their review of the various studies on cranberry and cancer, the researchers determined that the phytochemicals contained in cranberry fought cancer in four ways:

  • Induction of apoptosis (cell death) in cancer tumor cells
  • Decreased invasion, and metastasis due to matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) inhibition
  • Reduced ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) expression and activity
  • Inhibition of inflammatory processes including inhibition of cyclooxygenases

And while the scientists from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth conceded that there was a lot more research that needed to be done, they did say that their findings “… suggests a potential role for cranberry as a dietary chemopreventive …”

How safe is cranberry extract?

Cranberry extract supplements are extremely safe. There have been no reported side effects and can be used safely during pregnancy and breast feeding. However, individuals with a history of kidney stones should consult a medical professional before using cranberry extract for long periods of time, since there is some indication long-term use might increase the risk of developing a kidney stone.18


As with any alternative treatment or therapy, conclusive proof of efficacy is often difficult to point to. However, there is now a strong scientific basis for the use of cranberries to reduce the risk of E. coli adhesion to bladder cells and the onset of urinary tract infection.

And while the science that points to extracts from cranberry as a preventative against cancer is exciting, there is still much to be learned. But if you are concerned about cancer, supplementing with cranberry extract could very well be a wise preventive measure to take. And if you do suffer from bladder issues or painful urinary tract infections, cranberry extract supplementation is a healthy, side-effect-free way to prevent future UTI’s.


  1. Neto, C. C., Cranberry and Blueberry: Evidence for Protective Effects Against Cancer and Vascular Diseases. Mol. Nutr. Food Res.2007 Jun;51(6):652-64.
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  3. Foxman, B. Am. J. Med. 2002; 113 (suppl. 1A), 5S.
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  10. McMurdo, M., Argo, I., Phillips, G., Daly, F., Davey, P. Cranberry or trimethoprim for the prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections? A randomized controlled trial in older women.J Antimicrob Chemother. 2009 Feb;63(2):389-95. Epub 2008 Nov 28.
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  13. Liberty, A. M., Hart, P. E., Neto, C. C ., Ursolic Acid and Proanthocyanidins from Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) Inhibit Colony Formation and Proliferation in HCT-116and HT-29 Colon and MCF-7 Breast Tumor Cells. 233rd National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Chicago,IL 2007.
  14. Murphy, B. T., MacKinnon, S. L., Yan, X., Neto, C. C., et al., Identification of triterpene hydroxycinnamates with in vitro antitumor activity from whole cranberry fruit (Vaccinium macrocarpon). J. Agric. Food Chem. 2003, 51, 3541 –3545.
  15. Ferguson PJ, et al. A flavonoid fraction from cranberry extract inhibits proliferation of human tumor cell lines. J Nutr. 2004 Jun;134(6):1529-35.
  16. Roy S, Khanna S, Alessio HM, Vider J, Bagchi D, Bagchi M, Sen CK. Anti-angiogenic property of edible berries. Free Radic Res. 2002 Sep;36(9):1023-31.
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