Cranberries may have a previously unknown heath benefit. The tart fruit appears to dampen damage to the brain before and after a stroke, according to preliminary research. The berries may aid recovery from a stroke, particularly in the earliest stages when the most irreversible damage occurs.
The research findings come from work with rats. Researcher Catherine Neto from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth cultivated rat brain cells in the lab, and exposed them to conditions that occur during a stroke. In the first moments of a stroke, cells are deprived of oxygen and glucose. Then oxygen quickly returns to the brain, forming hydrogen peroxide, which also kills cells. In both phases, cranberry extract helped keep the cells alive.
"We see about 50 percent less brain cell death...when treated with cranberry extract," Neto says. "We believe that it has something to do with the antioxidant activity of some of the compounds in cranberry."
Cranberries do not lessen the risk of stroke, but they may lessen its severity. Similar promising results have also been found with blueberries, which are also in the Vaccinium genus.