Can Drinking Cranberry Juice Lower Cholesterol?

Studies have shown that cranberry consumption, along with other fruits and vegetables, may help improve heart health, including by lowering cholesterol. Cranberry juice is the form of cranberry that's been studied the most, although there's also data on the consumption of cranberry extract supplements to lower cholesterol levels.

Cranberries in a hand
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What You Should Know About Cranberries

Cranberries, also known by the scientific name Vaccinium macrocarpon, are a delicious fruit that can be cooked in many ways to make main meals or desserts. 

Cranberries are mainly native to the northeastern part of Canada and the United States. The health benefits of cranberries have been known for centuries. Initially used for food and fabric dyes, cranberries were once used to treat infected wounds. Cranberries have been studied for health claims in addition to improving heart health, such as the prevention of dental caries (cavities), urinary tract infections, and stomach ulcers.

Can Cranberries Really Lower Cholesterol?

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

Cranberry Juice and Cholesterol. Among the few studies of cranberries conducted in humans, cranberry juice has been the most examined. From these studies, it appears that cranberry juice consumption can boost HDL ("good") cholesterol by an average of 7 percent. To get those health benefits, participants in these studies consumed from 500 to 600 milliliters (17 to 20 ounces) of cranberry juice daily for up to three months.

Consumption of cranberry juice didn't seem to affect the study participants' levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, except that oxidized LDL cholesterol was lowered slightly in some studies. Triglycerides were not affected in these studies except for one case, attributed to the high amount of sugar in the cranberry juice drink.

Cranberry Extract Supplements. Another study, conducted in people with type 2 diabetes who were taking oral medications to lower their blood sugar levels, examined the effect of cranberry extract supplements on their cholesterol levels. In this study, participants took a 500 mg cranberry extract tablet three times daily after meals for 12 weeks. After the study period, their LDL cholesterol was significantly reduced. However, the cranberry supplements did not appear to affect participants' other lipids or their oxidized LDL levels.

Should You Incorporate Cranberries Into Your Diet to Lower Cholesterol?

Cranberries are a healthy, low-fat food that can enhance any cholesterol-lowering diet. After checking with your doctor, enjoy cranberries in any way that appeals to you (but watch out for high sugar levels in cranberry juice).

Keep in mind, however, that additional studies are needed to increase doctors' understanding of the effects of cranberry consumption on cholesterol levels and heart health. So, although cranberries are a healthy fruit and appear to help with lowering cholesterol levels, you should not rely solely on them for that purpose. 

Risks Associated With Cranberries

Drinking large amounts of cranberry juice might cause stomach upset, and over time you might increase your risk of kidney stones. If you are taking warfarin, a blood thinner, the levels may be affected by large doses of cranberry, so you should discuss that with your doctor.

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