Chances are, you associate a certain tart red berry with the holidays. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, it appears on most tables at least once.
But did you know cranberries may help counter the global threat of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”?
This is important news as both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have deemed antibiotic resistance a “global public health concern.”1
To that point, the CDC estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect at least two million people and cause 23,000 deaths each year in the United States.2
Can cranberries help? Let’s see. . .
You may have noticed that in recent years your doctor has been more reticent about prescribing antibiotics.
I hope so. Overuse of these drugs has merely stimulated bacteria to mutate and grow stronger.
Medically speaking, we’re about at the end of the rope. The drug companies are finding it harder and harder to develop antibiotics that can take on these mutant diseases.
There’s a real prospect that we could face a serious new infection with nothing to fight back – just like 80 or 90 years ago when millions died of almost-untreatable infections like tuberculosis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the term “superbugs” is used to describe strains of bacteria that are resistant to the majority of antibiotics used today. Resistant bacteria that cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections are just a few of the dangers we already face.3
A friend of mine suffered from a drug-resistant urinary tract infection. While in the hospital, she was quarantined in a separate room and required all kinds of “special handling” to make sure her infection did not spread to staff or other patients.
Some researchers suggest it’s only a matter of time before one of these superbugs creates an epidemic that overwhelms us.
It’s no wonder scientists are keen to tackle this issue with both barrels! They’ve even looked into some unconventional solutions such as insects and fish slime for compounds to deal with these superbugs.
How Cranberries Can Help
Researchers have long lauded cranberries’ powerful antioxidants and there’s a popular belief that they can help with urinary tract infections (UTI). But now there’s evidence that they could also help in the fight against bacteria.
I recently had a UTI myself, for the first time, and cranberry juice definitely helped during the week or so before I saw a doctor. But it didn’t totally get rid of the problem. I had to take antibiotics.
So I didn’t think cranberries would be of much help in battling superbugs. But I was wrong. . .
New research from McGill University in Canada finds that cranberry molecules make bacteria more sensitive to antibiotics. You can profit from taking both at once.4
Giving Dangerous Bacteria the One-Two Punch
Researchers found that when treated with molecules derived from cranberries, pathogenic bacteria become more sensitive to lower doses of antibiotics. Plus, the bacteria don’t develop resistance to the antibiotics.
Based on the belief that cranberry juice squelches urinary tract infections, the researchers decided to explore the berry’s molecular properties by treating various bacteria with cranberry extract. These particular bacteria are those responsible for UTIs, pneumonia and gastro-enteritis.
“Normally when we treat bacteria with an antibiotic in the lab, the bacteria eventually acquire resistance over time,” said McGill chemical engineering professor Nathalie Tufenkji, lead author of the study.5
But the researchers were surprised by what happened next.
“When we simultaneously treated the bacteria with an antibiotic and the cranberry extract, no resistance developed,” Dr. Tufenkji said. “We were very surprised by this, and we see it as an important opportunity.”
Cranberry Extract’s Two-Part Mechanism
The researchers discovered that there are two ways cranberry extract increases bacterial sensitivity to antibiotics. First, it causes the bacterial cell wall to be more permeable to the antibiotic. Second, it interferes with the mechanism used by the bacteria to block the antibiotic.
This means the prescription drug can permeate more easily, and the bacteria have a harder time getting rid of it. An that explains why the drug can be effective at lower doses.
“These are really exciting results,” Dr. Tufenkji said.
I’m pleased to see researchers working to solve this global health concern and I look forward to further studies.
Meanwhile, cranberries boast plenty of other health benefits. They rank just behind blueberries in antioxidant potency. And they are rich in anti-inflammatory power, too. Research also shows that they can help support gut health6 and good circulation.7
It seems that every silver lining has a cloud, though. During the week I was drinking large amounts of pure, undiluted organic cranberry juice, it eventually upset my stomach. I’m not sure if I developed an allergy or if the juice was just so acidic it got to me.
- Adv. Sci. 2019, 1802333. DOI: 10.1002/advs.201802333