THURSDAY, Nov. 22, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- The cranberry on your Thanksgiving dinner plate may be more than a pleasant condiment, it may be good medicine, too, scientists say.
Compounds in cranberries may be able to protect against E. coli bacteria, -- which cause a number of human health problems, including gastroenteritis, kidney infections and tooth decay -- say researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.
A team led by Terri Camesano, an associate professor of chemical engineering at the institute, has uncovered a number of biochemical and biophysical mechanisms that may explain some of the health benefits attributed to cranberries, including cranberry juice's ability to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs).
For example, they've found that a group of tannins (called proanthocyanidins or PACs) found primarily in cranberries interact with bacteria at the molecular level and prevent E. coli from attaching to cells in the body (a first step in infections) in a number of ways.
Among their findings:
- Chemical changes caused by cranberry juice create an energy barrier that prevents bacteria from getting close to the urinary tract lining.
- Cranberry juice causes compression of tiny tendrils on the surface of the type of E. coli that causes the most serious types of UTIs. Compression of these tendrils reduces the bacteria's ability to attach to the urinary tract lining.
- E. coli grown in cranberry juice or in PACs can't form biofilms, which contain high concentrations of bacteria and are required for infections to develop.
The research has been reported in a number of publications and presentations.
The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has more about cranberry.