Good reasons to fill up on coffee and cranberries

Latest research on health, nutrition

Cranberries and chronic infections

Go ahead and have an extra helping of cranberries over this holiday season. The latest studies show that cranberries pack a major nutritional punch and may help prevent chronic infections. In addition, researchers are now proposing the use of cranberry derivatives for preventing bacterial colonization in medical devices such as catheters.

Cranberries are among one of the healthiest fruits and their history can be traced back to Native Americans who used to eat cranberries to relieve aches and pains. Today, studies show that cranberries can help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) and may reduce the risk of gum disease, stomach ulcers and cancer.

Two new Canadian studies have found that cranberry powder can stop Proteus mirabilis (a bacterium frequently implicated in complicated UTIs) dead in its tracks. The experiments also showed that increasing concentrations of cranberry powder reduced the bacteria’s production of urease, an enzyme that contributes to the virulence of infections.

“While the effects of cranberry in living organisms remain subject to further study, our findings highlight the role that cranberry consumption might play in the prevention of chronic infections,” said study investigator Nathalie Tufenkji, who is with McGill University, Montreal, Canada. “Based on the demonstrated bioactivity of cranberry, its use in catheters and other medical devices could someday yield considerable benefits to patient health.”

Urine test may help diagnose eye disease

Researchers at Duke University have now come up with a urine test that can help diagnose retinitis pigmentosa (RP). The researchers are reporting that they can link what is in a patient’s urine to gene mutations that cause RP, which results in severe vision impairment and often blindness.

RP is an inherited disease and the researchers analyzed cells cultured from a family in which three out of the four siblings suffered from RP. They found that the children with RP carry two copies of a mutation at the dehydrodolichol diphosphate synthase (DHDDS) gene. The DHDDS mutation is the latest addition to more than 60 gene mutations that have been implicated in RP. This mutation appears to be prevalent in RP patients of the Ashkenazi Jewish origin, and 1 in 322 Ashkenazi carries one copy of the mutation.

The investigators now hope to develop a diagnostic test that can identify RP patients and lead to more personalized care for RP patients, especially in patients whose retinal degeneration has not fully developed.

“Since the urine samples gave us more distinct profiles than the blood samples, we think that urine is a better clinical material,” said researcher Ziqiang Guan, who is a professor of biochemistry at Duke University Medical School, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

He said urine collection is easier than a blood draw and the samples can be conveniently stored with a preservative. Guan said these new findings may lead to new treatments for this eye disease and other retinal tissue problems.

Can coffee reduce liver cancer?

A couple cups of coffee on a daily basis may go a long way in improving the health of your liver. Researchers in Italy are now reporting that coffee consumption reduces risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (the most common type of liver cancer) by about 40 percent. They conducted a meta-analysis in which they looked 16 studies that were published between 1996 through September 2012. They found some data that indicated three cups of coffee per day may reduce liver cancer risk by more than 50 percent.

“Our research confirms past claims that coffee is good for your health, and particularly the liver,” said study author Dr. Carlo La Vecchia, MD, who is with the Università degli Studi di Milan, Milan, Italy. “The favorable effect of coffee on liver cancer might be mediated by coffee’s proven prevention of diabetes, a known risk factor for the disease, or for its beneficial effects on cirrhosis and liver enzymes.”

He and his colleagues looked at studies which included more than 3,150 liver cancer cases. Primary liver cancers are largely avoidable through hepatitis B virus vaccination, control of hepatitis C virus transmission and reduction of alcohol intake. These three measures can, in principle, avoid more than 90 percent of primary liver cancer worldwide. Yet, liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world, and the third most common cause of cancer death.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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