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Cranberry is a type of evergreen shrub that grows in wet areas, such as bogs or wetlands. Cranberry is native to northeastern and northcentral parts of the United States. The shrub has small, dark green leaves, pink flowers, and dark red fruit that are egg-shaped.
Cranberry is also used for kidney stones, neurogenic bladder (a bladder disease), to deodorize urine in people with difficulty controlling urination, to prevent urine catheters from becoming blocked, and to heal skin around surgical openings in the stomach that are used to eliminate urine. Some people use cranberry to increase urine flow, kill germs, and reduce fever.
Some people use cranberry for type 2 diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), enlarged prostate, common colds, flu, heart disease, memory, metabolic syndrome, ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), scurvy, inflammation of the lining around the lung (pleurisy), and cancer.
In foods, cranberry fruit is used in cranberry juice, cranberry juice cocktail, jelly, and sauce.
How does it work?
People used to think that cranberry worked for urinary tract infections by making the urine acidic and, therefore, unlikely to support the growth of bacteria. But researchers don't believe this explanation any more. They now think that some of the chemicals in cranberries keep bacteria from sticking to the cells that line the urinary tract where they can multiply. Cranberry, however, does not seem to have the ability to release bacteria which are already stuck to these cells. This may explain why cranberry is possibly effective in preventing urinary tract infections, but possibly ineffective in treating them.
Cranberry, as well as many other fruits and vegetables, contains significant amounts of salicylic acid, which is an important ingredient in aspirin. Drinking cranberry juice regularly increases the amount of salicylic acid in the body. Salicylic acid can reduce swelling, prevent blood clots, and can have antitumor effects.
Possibly Effective for...
- Preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs). Some research shows that taking certain cranberry capsules or tablets can help prevent UTIs in people who have had UTIs in the past. However, research is unclear whether drinking cranberry juice helps prevent repeat UTIs. Taking certain cranberry products or drinking cranberry juice might prevent UTIs in older people living in nursing homes, in pregnant women, and in children who have had UTIs in the past. But cranberry does not appear to help prevent UTIs in other people who have conditions that make them a high risk for UTIs. This includes people undergoing surgery or radiation near the bladder or urinary tract, as well as people with a bladder condition (neurogenic bladder) caused by an injury to the spinal cord.
While cranberry can help prevent UTIs for some people, it should not be used for treating UTIs.
Possibly Ineffective for...
- Diabetes. Research shows that taking cranberry supplements by mouth does not lower blood sugar in people with diabetes.
Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Early research shows that taking dried cranberry capsules three times daily for 6 months might improve urinary symptoms and reduce levels of certain biomarkers associated with BPH.
- Common cold. Research suggests that drinking cranberry juice daily for 70 days does not reduce the risk of cold or flu, but might reduce cold and flu symptoms.
- Clogged arteries (coronary artery disease). Early evidence suggests that drinking cranberry juice daily for 4 weeks does not improve blood flow in people with clogged arteries.
- Stomach ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) infection. There is inconsistent evidence regarding the ability of cranberry juice to eliminate a certain bacteria (H. pylori) in the stomach that can cause stomach ulcers. Some research suggests that drinking cranberry juice daily for up to 90 days can help eliminate H. pylori in adults and children. But other early research shows that drinking cranberry juice while taking conventional medication used to treat H. pylori infections does not improve healing time compared to taking the medication alone.
- Flu. Research suggests that drinking cranberry juice daily for 70 days does not reduce the risk of cold or flu, but might reduce cold and flu symptoms.
- Kidney stones (nephrolithiasis). There is inconsistent evidence on the use of cranberry to lower the risk of kidney stones. Some early evidence suggests that drinking cranberry juice might lower the risk of kidney stones forming. However, other early evidence suggests that drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry extracts might actually increase the risk of kidney stones.
- Memory. Early research suggests that drinking cranberry juice twice daily for 6 weeks does not improve memory in older people.
- Metabolic syndrome. Early research suggests that drinking cranberry juice twice daily for 8 weeks can benefit some antioxidant measurements in the blood, but it does not appear to affect blood pressure, blood sugar, or cholesterol levels in people with metabolic syndrome.
- Urine odor. Early research shows that drinking cranberry juice might reduce the odor of urine in people with difficulty controlling urination.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
- Wound healing.
- Other conditions.
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).
Cranberry is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth appropriately. Cranberry juice and cranberry extracts have been used safely in people. However, drinking too much cranberry juice can cause some side effects such as mild stomach upset and diarrhea. Drinking more than 1 liter per day for a long period of time might increase the chance of getting kidney stones.
Children: Cranberry juice is LIKELY SAFE for children when taken by mouth as a food or drink.
Aspirin allergy: Cranberries contain significant amounts of salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is similar to aspirin. Avoid drinking large quantities of cranberry juice if you are allergic to aspirin.
Low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria). Cranberry juice might increase how much vitamin B12 the body absorbs for people with low levels of stomach acid.
Kidney stones: Cranberry juice and cranberry extracts contain a large amount of a chemical called oxalate. In fact, there is some evidence that some cranberry extract tablets can boost the level of oxalate in the urine by as much as 43%. Since kidney stones are made primarily from oxalate combined with calcium, healthcare providers worry that cranberry might increase the risk of kidney stones. To be on the safe side, avoid taking cranberry extract products or drinking a lot of cranberry juice if you have a history of kidney stones.
Atorvastatin (Lipitor)Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.
Atorvastatin (Lipitor) is a medication used for lowering cholesterol. The body breaks down atorvastatin (Lipitor) to get rid of it. Cranberry might decrease how quickly the body breaks down atorvastatin (Lipitor). Drinking cranberry juice while taking these medications might increase the effects and side effects of atorvastatin (Lipitor). Avoid drinking large amounts of cranberry juice if you are taking atorvastatin (Lipitor).
Medications changed by the liver (Cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4) substrates)Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.
Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Cranberry might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Taking cranberry along with some medications that are broken down by the liver can increase the effects and side effects of some medications. Before taking cranberry, talk to your healthcare provider if you take any medications that are changed by the liver.
Nifedipine (Procardia)Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.
Cranberry might decrease how quickly the body breaks down some medications that are broken down by the liver, including nifedipine (Procardia). In theory, drinking cranberry juice while taking nifedipine might increase the effects and side effects of nifedipine (Procardia).
Warfarin (Coumadin)Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.
Warfarin (Coumadin) is used to slow blood clotting. Cranberry might increase how long warfarin (Coumadin) is in the body, and increase the chances of bruising and bleeding. But, research in this area is not consistent. Be sure to have your blood checked regularly. The dose of your warfarin (Coumadin) might need to be changed.
Diclofenac (Voltaren, others)Interaction Rating: Minor Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.
Cranberry might decrease how quickly the body breaks down some medications that are broken down by the liver, including diclofenac (Voltaren, others). In theory, drinking cranberry juice while taking diclofenac might increase the effects and side effects of diclofenac.
Medications changed by the liver (Cytochrome P450 2C9 (CYP2C9) substrates)Interaction Rating: Minor Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.
Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Some research suggests that cranberry might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Taking cranberry along with some medications that are broken down by the liver can increase the effects and side effects of some medications. But, research in this area is not consistent. Before taking cranberry, talk to your healthcare provider if you take any medications that are changed by the liver.
Some medications that are changed by the liver include amitriptyline (Elavil), diazepam (Valium), zileuton (Zyflo), celecoxib (Celebrex), diclofenac (Voltaren), fluvastatin (Lescol), glipizide (Glucotrol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), irbesartan (Avapro), losartan (Cozaar), phenytoin (Dilantin), piroxicam (Feldene), tamoxifen (Nolvadex), tolbutamide (Tolinase), torsemide (Demadex), warfarin (Coumadin), and others.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs): Capsules or tablets containing 200-500 mg of dried cranberry taken once or twice daily have been used. Drinking cranberry juice 120-300 mL daily has also been used.
- For preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs): 50 mL of a cranberry and lingonberry concentrate taken daily for 6 months has been used. Also, 5 mL/kg of cranberry juice taken daily for 6 months has been used.
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Epp, A., Larochelle, A., Lovatsis, D., Walter, J. E., Easton, W., Farrell, S. A., Girouard, L., Gupta, C., Harvey, M. A., Robert, M., Ross, S., Schachter, J., Schulz, J. A., Wilkie, D., Ehman, W., Domb, S., Gagnon, A., Hughes, O., Konkin, J., Lynch, J., Marshall, C., and Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. Recurrent urinary tract infection. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2010;32(11):1082-1101. View abstract.
Fanos, V., Atzei, A., Zaffanello, M., Piras, A., and Cataldi, L. Cranberry and prevention of urinary tract infections in children. J Chemother. 2006;18 Spec no 3:21-24. View abstract.
Ferguson, P. J., Kurowska, E. M., Freeman, D. J., Chambers, A. F., and Koropatnick, J. In vivo inhibition of growth of human tumor lines by flavonoid fractions from cranberry extract. Nutr Cancer 2006;56(1):86-94. View abstract.
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