March 24, 2003 -- Drink up -- cranberry juice, that is. Cranberry juice loads the blood with lots of disease-fighting antioxidants. It also appears to improve some cholesterol components, which are beneficial in fighting heart disease.
The first long-term study of its kind -- looking at cranberry juice's effects on cholesterol -- finds that two glasses a day raises levels of HDL "good" cholesterol and lowers levels of high LDL "bad" cholesterol. The study also shows a significant increase in antioxidants in the blood.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society held in New Orleans this week.
Researchers have long suspected that antioxidant-rich cranberry juice may help lower risk of heart disease. However, this is the first study looking at the effects among people drinking the juice.
Studies of dried cranberries have also shown that the fruit contains more antioxidants called phenols than any of 20 commonly consumed fruits, writes lead researcher Joe Vinson, PhD, of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. "We have shown that...cranberry ranks behind dates but ahead of raisins, plums, and apricots.
"Cranberry juice is higher in phenol antioxidants than other fruit juices with the exception of grape juice," he adds.
In this current study, Vinson measured cholesterol levels of 19 people with high cholesterol who were not taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. Ten drank cranberry juice with artificial sweetener. The others drank cranberry juice with regular sugar. Both drinks had about 27% pure cranberry juice, like the brands available at the supermarket.
Each drank one eight-ounce glass daily for the first month, then two glasses a day for the next month, then three glasses a day for the third month. Their cholesterol was tested monthly.
Overall cholesterol levels did not change; however, levels of high-density lipoprotein ("good" cholesterol) appeared to increase significantly -- by as much as 121% -- after two or three glasses of juice a day, Vinson reports.
Orange juice is also a good antioxidant-booster -- but not as powerful as cranberry juice, he adds.
The researchers say their findings underscore the government health recommendations that more fruit and vegetables be part of a healthy diet. Two servings per day of cranberry juice significantly improved LDL and HDL cholesterol, two important parameters that may decrease the risks of heart disease.