Previously, the fruit has been linked to lowered risk of urinary tract infections, decreased blood pressure and improved immune function.
But cranberries have now been proven to be beneficial for gut health as well, with academics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst finding that certain beneficial gut bacteria are able to grow when fed a carbohydrate found in the red berry.
Nutritional microbiologist David Sela has explained that while humans cannot digest the special sugars found in cranberry cell walls called xyloglucans, this can make its way into the intestines where "beneficial bacteria can break them down into useful molecules and compounds".
What we eat not only nourishes the body, but also feeds the beneficial bacteria, the microbiome, in the intestines. As there are thought to be as many bacterial cells in our bodies as our own human cells, Sela points out that people are "basically eating for two".
"These gut bacteria are extremely significant to us, they really are very important. Our food makes a difference for us as well as the beneficial microbes that we carry around with us," he said.
Looking to the future, Sela isn't clear on how the discovery may impact health. But he is certain that the new understanding will have implications for the rest of the microbial community in the gut, and highlights the need to study the benefits of prebiotics.
"With probiotics, we are taking extra doses of beneficial bacteria that may or may not help our gut health," the expert stated. "But with prebiotics, we already know that we have the beneficial guys in our guts, so let’s feed them! Let’s give them more nutrients and things that they like."
The full study has been published in journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
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