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Can Cranberries Lower Cholesterol?

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Updated February 24, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Cranberries are a delicious fruit that can complement many dishes and desserts. There are some studies that suggest that cranberries also can help lower your cholesterol.

Cranberries, also known by the scientific name Vaccinium macrocarpon, are a fruit mostly native to the northeastern part of Canada and the United States. Initially used for food and fabric dye, the healthy benefits of cranberries have been known for centuries. Cranberries were once used to treat infected wounds. Studies have indicated additional, healthy benefits of cranberries, including the prevention of dental caries, urinary tract infections, and stomach ulcers. Recently, studies also have shown that cranberry consumption, along with other fruits and vegetables, may help improve heart health – including lowering cholesterol.

Can Cranberries Really Lower Cholesterol?

The heart-healthy benefits of cranberries may have something to do with the phytochemicals they possess. Cranberries are particularly high in polyphenols, which are known to reduce inflammation. These chemicals also appear to affect cholesterol levels.

Among the few studies conducted in humans, cranberry juice has been the most examined. From these studies, it appears that cranberry juice consumption can boost HDL cholesterol by an average of 7%. To see these healthy benefits, participants in these studies had to consume anywhere between 500 to 600 mL of cranberry juice daily for up to three months. LDL cholesterol did not appear to be significantly affected by cranberry juice consumption, whereas only oxidized LDL cholesterol was lowered slightly in some studies. Triglycerides in these studies were not affected, except for one case that was attributed to the high amount of sugar in the cranberry juice drink.

Another study conducted in diabetics examined the effect of cranberry extract supplements on cholesterol. In this study, participants took a 500 mg cranberry extract tablet three times daily after meals for 12 weeks. After the study period, LDL cholesterol was slightly increased by about 12%. Other lipids, as well as oxidized LDL, did not appear to be significantly affected by consuming cranberry supplements.

The Bottom Line

Cranberries are a healthy, low-fat food that can complement any cholesterol-lowering diet. Although healthy, cranberries should not be solely relied upon to help lower your cholesterol. More studies are needed in order to examine the impact cranberries have on cholesterol levels and heart health.

Sources:

Lee IT, Chan YC, Lin CW et al. Effect of cranberry extracts on lipid profiles in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Diabet Med 2008;25:1473-1477.

Ruel G, Pomerleau S, Couture P, et al. Low calorie cranberry juice supplementation reduces plasma oxidized LDL and cell adhesion molecule concentrations in men. Brit J Nutr 2008;99:352-359.

McKay DL and Blumberg JB. Cranberries and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Nutr Rev 2007;65:490-502.

Chu YF, Liu RH. Cranberries inhibit LDL oxidation and induce LDL receptor expression in hepatocytes. Life Sciences 2005;77:1892-1901.

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