Research points to benefits of drinking cranberry juice

MEDICAL MATTERS

September 29, 2006|By JUDY FOREMAN

Yes, say researchers who study the berry, although the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which is sponsoring several clinical trials, says the data is "not conclusive."

The queen of cranberry science, Amy Howell, an associate research scientist at Rutgers University in Chatsworth, N.J., said that, overall, research suggests that eight to 10 ounces a day of cranberry juice cocktail drink, sweetened with either sugar or artificial sweetener, have been shown clinically to reduce urinary tract infections by 50 percent.

For years, people thought that cranberry juice might combat urinary tract infections by making the urine more acidic, thus making it harder for bacteria to grow.

Now, thanks to the work of Howell and others, it is known that a chemical in cranberries called proanthocyanidin blocks infections by coating E. coli, the major culprit, so that it cannot stick to cells in the bladder.

"If you prevent the adhesion, the bacteria won't multiply and cause infection," Howell said.

That's why it's no big deal, she said, that there were "negative" findings in a recent study published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy.

That study indicated that drinking cranberry juice was no more effective at preventing bacterial growth in urine than drinking water, said Dr. Sophie Chang, a clinical pharmacist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and one of the authors.

Since the cranberry compounds don't kill bacteria, there is less of a chance that the bacteria will become resistant, as they would with the antibiotics that are traditionally used to treat the infections, Howell said.

Urinary tract infections, which send more than 8 million Americans to the doctor every year, are a major driver of antibiotic resistance, in which overuse of antibiotics cause bacteria to develop resistance to the drugs.

A similar version of the proanthocyanidin is also found in blueberries, said Dr. Kalpana Gupta, an assistant professor of medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine.

Until recently, scientists thought that once a person gets a urinary infection, they need antibiotics. But new data released this month suggest that cranberry juice may help treat existing cases, as well as prevent urinary infections.

Is there a way to spot bogus medical "warnings" before e-mailing them to friends?

Yes, and I'm more than happy to spread the word. Typically, these bogus medical alerts spread from woman to woman, the subtext being that the medical establishment is willfully withholding important information about scary things.

Things such as - I kid you not - flesh-eating bananas, anti-perspirants that supposedly cause breast cancer and my all-time favorite, tampons containing asbestos and dioxin.

For the record, the first has been debunked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the second by me (The Sun, Feb. 4, 2005) among others, the third by the Food and Drug Administration.

To check out e-mail hoaxes and urban legends, the Harvard Women's Health Watch suggests looking at several Web sites.

One is hoaxbusters.ciac.org run by the Computer Incident Advisory Capability of the Department of Energy. Another, truthor fiction.com, is run by Rich Buhler, a journalist who, according to the site, has been debunking rumors and urban legends for more than 30 years.

There's also www.cdc.gov/hoax_rumors.htm and urbanlegends.about.com/library/blxhealth.htm. I like all these sites and would add one more, quackwatch.org.

So, next time you get one of these e-mails, do not pass it on without checking out the information on one or more of these sites.

Send your questions to foreman@baltsun.com.

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