Cranberry juice may help prevent gum disease

New research presented at a recent symposium suggests that cranberry juice may help prevent certain oral health problems, including diseases of the gums and teeth.

Dr. Hyun Koo from the University of Rochester examined cranberry juice's ability to prevent Streptococcus mutans bacteria from sticking to teeth. If the bacteria cannot adhere, then they cannot develop the buildup of dental plaque that covers the teeth and begins to cause cavities and even gum disease. Dr. Koo presented his research at the Cranberry Institute's Second Biennial Cranberry Health Research Symposium, held in October in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Prominent health experts gathered from North America to present new findings on cranberries' role in preventing a number of diseases and infections.

In Dr. Koo's in vitro study, two daily doses of a beverage containing 25 percent cranberry juice inhibited bacteria binding and further accumulation to an artificial tooth surface by 67 to 85 percent. As new cranberry oral health products such as dental floss or toothpaste, already on the market, become more widely available, people around the country will be able to apply this research to their daily routines for a healthier smile.

The symposium also offered a glimpse into the research studies funded by a landmark $2.6 million federal initiative to explore cranberries' health effects. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health is funding nine cranberry studies, primarily researching the unique activity of cranberry in preventing the adhesion of certain disease-causing bacteria to cells and tissues in our bodies. While much of this program focuses on the well-known effect of cranberry in helping prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), the NCCAM grants will also fund additional research by Dr. Koo on cranberries' bacteria- blocking mechanism at work in maintaining oral health. Other recent findings suggest a similar effect on the bacteria that cause most stomach ulcers.

Much of the research presented at the cranberry health symposium concentrated on more deeply understanding the effect on UTIs. A new study by Dr. Amy Howell of Rutgers University and Dr. Kalpana Gupta of Yale University suggests a dose-dependent response. In this study, drinking eight ounces of cranberry juice more than doubled the benefit from drinking only four ounces.

Other recent research has investigated the naturally high levels of antioxidants in cranberries, one benefit of which may be to help protect the heart from cardiovascular disease. A limited study by Dr. Ted Wilson of Winona State University demonstrated a decrease in total blood cholesterol when low-calorie cranberry juice was consumed. Another study by Dr. Joseph Vinson of the University of Scranton, examining only patients with high cholesterol, observed an increase in high density lipoprotein (HDL, or the "good" cholesterol) using cranberry juice cocktail.

Additional research points to a potential link between cranberries and protection against brain cell damage during a stroke. A preliminary rat cell tissue study, led by principal investigator Dr. Catherine Neto at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, suggests that cranberry may reduce the severity of a stroke via an antioxidant mechanism during the early stages of stroke, the point at which the most damage occurs.

Lastly, cranberries' antioxidant profile may also help prevent certain cancers. While data is preliminary, researchers are interested in cranberries' role in inhibiting growth of oral, prostate, colon, breast, cervical, lung and leukemia cancer cells.

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