Study Finds Short-Term Cranberry Supplementation Has A Strong Bifidogenic Effect In The Human Gut

June 21, 2024 7 min read

Study Finds Short-Term Cranberry Supplementation Has A Strong Bifidogenic Effect In The Human Gut - Blog Layer Origin

Cranberry extracts could improve the composition of the gut microbiome, increasing the abundance of Bifidobacteria and several butyrate-producing species, including Faecalibacterium in some people.

Article Outline

Introduction

Cranberries are bright, red berries with a tart flavor linked to several health benefits. They are a good source of carbohydrates and fiber, packed with several vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamin C.

Cranberry juice is recommended for urinary tract infections because of its antibacterial properties, preventing bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall[i]. But cranberries also have powerful antioxidant properties and recent research has found that these tiny, potent fruits can modulate the gut microbiota, potentially preventing chronic diseases.

Here, we’ll explore the results of the recently published study, what it could mean for health, and how you can increase your cranberry intake. 

Cranberries 101

Cranberries have many health benefits, from reducing the severity and incidence of urinary tract infections to preventing neurodegenerative disease. Studies show that a daily cranberry supplement equivalent to 1 small cup of cranberries over 3 months improved episodic memory and neural function[ii].

These benefits have been mostly linked to the high polyphenol content in cranberries. However, polyphenols are poorly absorbed by humans and instead mediate their beneficial properties through their interaction with the gut inhabitants[iii].

Yet, studies analysing the health benefits of cranberries have delivered mixed results. Yet, research has shown that cranberry polyphenols can increase the abundance and activities of the next-generation probiotic  Akkermansia muciniphila.

What’s the link between cranberry polyphenols and A. muciniphila?

In a study published in 2015, it was demonstrated that cranberry extract had a positive impact on insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles in mice fed a high fat/high sucrose diet. More interestingly, cranberry extract increased the abundance of  A. muciniphila[iv].Therefore, initiating conversations about how these findings could be used to combat metabolic disease.

Cranberry polyphenols increase the production of MUC2, a protein that is the favoured nourishment of  A. muciniphila,  boosting its growth. Low levels of  Akkermansia  are associated with an increased risk of developing metabolic disorders, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. While inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients also tend to have a lower abundance of  A. muciniphila.  Therefore, through their interaction with this next-generation probiotic, cranberry extracts could benefit several chronic diseases[v].   

The effect of cranberry on the gut microbiota composition

Lessard-Lord and Co-workers set out to analyse the effect of short-term supplementation of cranberry extract on the composition and function of the human gut microbiota. The study involved 39 healthy individuals who were told to take a cranberry supplement capsule twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening for four days. This was equivalent to eating 60g of fresh cranberries.

Faecal, urine, and plasma samples were collected at the beginning and end of the study. Faecal samples were used to analyse the faecal microbiota composition and short-chain fatty acid abundance.

Composition of the cranberry extract supplement

The cranberry extract supplement used in the study delivered 109 mg of polyphenols and 125 mg of oligosaccharides daily to each of the participants. The most abundant polyphenol was flavan-3-ols, accounting for 75% of the total polyphenol content.

Flavan-3-ols are the most consumed flavonoids in the Western diet and have several beneficial health effects, including exhibiting the following activities:

  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-cancer
  • Cardio-protective
  • Neuro-protective
  • Antimicrobial[vi]

What did the results say?

The results showed that the cranberry supplements significantly increased species richness and β diversity after just four days but caused a slight reduction in α diversity. By analysing the participant's faecal samples before and after the supplementation period, the researchers could assess if the cranberry extract supplement influenced the overall composition of the gut microbiota.

The study found that in the first samples collected the prominent bacterial genera were  Bacteroides and Prevotella.  However, following the four-day supplementation, the prominent genera shifted to  Bifidobacteria,  Fusicatenibacter, and Blautia. Therefore, it demonstrates that cranberry extract can change the overall composition of the gut microbiome and exhibits a bifidogenic effect.  

Bifidobacteria adolescentis and B. longum abundance increased following supplementation. These strains are linked to improvements in gut barrier function, protecting against gastrointestinal disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)[vii] and anti-inflammatory effects[viii]. However, the increase in  Bifidobacteria  was at the expense of  Bacteroides  whose abundance was reduced after the cranberry extract supplementation. Yet, the researchers state that this could be because of the symbiotic relationship the two share.

Does cranberry extract have the same effect on everyone?

Interestingly, the study found that although a bifidogenic effect was observed in most of the participants, some had a different response. The participants were split into two enterotypes based on the relative abundance of genera in the faecal microbiota.

After supplementation, the two enterotypes were characterised by:

  • Enterotype 1:Increased  Faecalibacterium  and  Agathobacter  and a reduction in
  • Enterotype 2:Greater reduction in  Phocaeicola  and  Bacteroides.

The researchers found there was no significant difference between the α diversity between the two enterotypes. However, β diversity was significantly affected by the cranberry extract treatment, yet both enterotypes experienced a bifidogenic effect.

Across both enterotypes acetate levels were reduced while butyrate concentrations increased in faecal samples. However, the trends between the two enterotypes were different for plasma SCFA levels. Enterotype 1 was associated with a decrease in acetate and an increase in propionate, while the opposite was true for enterotype 2.

What do these results mean?

The study was the first to demonstrate that even brief supplementation with cranberry extract that’s rich in polyphenols and oligosaccharides, exerts a beneficial effect on the human gut microbiome, namely the increase in  Bifidobacteria.

Interestingly, the study also revealed that the cranberry extract increased butyrate production, an SCFA with potent health benefits. For example, a summary by Mayorga-Ramos et al., (2022) highlighted that butyrate is important for reducing high blood sugar levels and for improving weight control in people with type 2 diabetes[ix]. Because it is also the main energy source for the cells that line the colon, butyrate supports colonocyte function, lowers inflammation, and promotes the gut barrier's integrity[x].

More research needs to be conducted to fully understand the long-term benefits of cranberry extract on human health, but these results are promising. Taken in line with previous research showing the benefits of cranberry extract on  A. muciniphila  abundance, cranberries could help to counter the harmful effects of the Western diet.

How to increase your cranberry intake

The study by Lessard-Lord et al., (2024) gave their participants a cranberry extract supplement that was equivalent to eating 60g of fresh cranberries. You’ll need to consume a few cranberries to feel the benefits, but at Layer Origin, we can offer a simple (wink wink) solution.

Our Simple Reds is a robust blend of 5 red fruit powders, including cranberry, bursting with antioxidants and polyphenols to give your gut the sustenance it needs to boost  Bifidobacteria  and  Akkermansia.  So, when you buy a pot of our Simple Reds mix, you’ll be getting much more than you bargained for: 

Organic beetroot powder

2000 mg

Organic goji berry powder

2000 mg

Organic strawberry powder

2000 mg

Organic cranberry powder

1000 mg

Organic apple peel powder

1000 mg

Plus, you can combine it with our PureHMO® range to synergistically yield gut health benefits. Find out more about the benefits of red foods here. 

Summary

Cranberry extract can modulate the gut microbiome to yield bifidogenic benefits. Cranberries may be small, but their antioxidant properties are powerful and could offer a potential solution to combat the harmful effects of the Western lifestyle.

At Layer Origin, we offer a simple solution to help you harness the polyphenol content found in cranberries, and other red fruits, with our Simple Reds. Get your pot today!

Written by: Leanne Edermaniger, M.Sc. Leanne is a professional science writer who specializes in human health and enjoys writing about all things related to the gut microbiome.  

Sources

[i] Jepson RG, Mihaljevic L, Craig J. Cranberries for treating urinary tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;1998(2):CD001322. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001322. Update in: Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2023 Dec 14;12:CD001322. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001322.pub2. PMID: 10796775; PMCID: PMC7025796.

[ii] Flanagan E, Cameron D, Sobhan R, Wong C, Pontifex MG, Tosi N, Mena P, Del Rio D, Sami S, Narbad A, Müller M, Hornberger M, Vauzour D. Chronic Consumption of Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) for 12 Weeks Improves Episodic Memory and Regional Brain Perfusion in Healthy Older Adults: A Randomised, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel-Groups Feasibility Study. Front Nutr. 2022 May 19;9:849902. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2022.849902. PMID: 35662954; PMCID: PMC9160193.

[iii] Chiva-Blanch G, Visioli F. Polyphenols and health: Moving beyond antioxidants. Journal of Berry Research. 2012;2(2):63–71. doi:10.3233/jbr-2012-028

[iv][iv] Anhê FF, Roy D, Pilon G, Dudonné S, Matamoros S, Varin TV, et al. A polyphenol-rich cranberry extract protects from diet-induced obesity, insulin resistance and intestinal inflammation in association with increasedakkermansiaspp. population in the gut microbiota of Mice. Gut. 2014 Jul 30;64(6):872–83. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2014-307142

[v] Al-Fakhrany OM, Elekhnawy E. Next-generation probiotics: The upcoming Biotherapeutics. Molecular Biology Reports. 2024 Apr 15;51(1). doi:10.1007/s11033-024-09398-5

[vi] Aron PM, Kennedy JA. Flavan-3-ols: nature, occurrence and biological activity. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Jan;52(1):79-104. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200700137. PMID: 18081206.

[vii] Yao S, Zhao Z, Wang W, Liu X. Bifidobacterium Longum: Protection against Inflammatory Bowel Disease. J Immunol Res. 2021 Jul 23;2021:8030297. doi: 10.1155/2021/8030297. PMID: 34337079; PMCID: PMC8324359.

[viii] Leser T, Baker A. Bifidobacterium adolescentis - a beneficial microbe. Benef Microbes. 2023 Nov 27;14(6):525-551. doi: 10.1163/18762891-20230030. PMID: 38350464.

[ix] Mayorga-Ramos A, Barba-Ostria C, Simancas-Racines D, Guamán LP. Protective role of butyrate in obesity and diabetes: New insights. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2022 Nov 24;9. doi:10.3389/fnut.2022.1067647

[x] Hodgkinson K, El Abbar F, Dobranowski P, Manoogian J, Butcher J, Figeys D, Mack D, Stintzi A. Butyrate's role in human health and the current progress towards its clinical application to treat gastrointestinal disease. Clin Nutr. 2023 Feb;42(2):61-75. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2022.10.024. Epub 2022 Nov 2. PMID: 36502573.


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