Cranberries: Not Just for Thanksgiving
Cranberry sauce is one of the most traditional Thanksgiving side dishes. And here’s some good news — not only is fresh cranberry sauce or relish delicious and easy to make, it is excellent for your body and brain and can be enjoyed all year round. If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection, you’ll know that cranberry juice can be helpful for pain reduction. But cranberries are also extremely helpful in keeping your brain sharp, eliminating the H. pylori bacteria associated with stomach ulcers, and helping to reduce or eliminate the pain from Lyme Disease. If you live in New England as I do, you may be used to seeing cranberries this time of year. When I lived a little further south, in Duxbury, Massachusetts, I always enjoyed seeing bogs of cranberry plants being covered with water as I drove down the highway. I even had a patient whose family owned a cranberry bog, who educated me in the history of the cranberry. Fun fact: the name “cranberry” comes from the shape of the flower that the plants produce, which looks like a crane. Early European settlers began calling the plant the “craneberry.” With the New England pronunciation, this evolved into “cranberry.”
Over the past few years, I have developed an ulcer from Helicobacter pylori, also known as H. pylori bacteria. Antibiotics are effective for treating this bacteria, but I have severe reactions to all antibiotics, so I went searching for an alternative that would help. In a previous blog post, I’ve mentioned that I found blackstrap molasses useful for this problem. But this past summer, my ulcer was really acting up, and I needed to find something more effective. So I did some research and discovered claims stating that cranberries are very effective in treating the pain of an ulcer. There are numerous website and studies showing this, including this one that the New York Times covered a few years ago, which found a significantly higher rate of eradication in H. pylori bacteria in test subjects compared with a control group. Not only did I find that consuming cranberries was indeed effective in reducing the pain of my ulcer, I noticed my joint pain from my Lyme disease also seemed reduced. I thought this might just be a coincidence, so I did some research on myself. When my ulcer was not bothering me, but my joints were in pain, I made a batch of fresh cranberry relish. As a person who has had several brain injuries, I do not use canned cranberries because of the sugar content. Instead, I buy fresh cranberries in the late autumn and store them in my freezer to use throughout the year. In November, it’s fun to get fresh cranberries down at the bogs, or from local farm stands.
Do Try This at Home
To make fresh cranberry relish, put half pound or a pound of cranberries into a saucepan. Cover the cranberries completely with water, and then add raw, unprocessed honey. If possible, try to get local honey, because it will have the pollen from your area and will be more effective for you, especially if you have allergies as I do. How much honey you use is up to you. Some people like the very tart flavor of cranberries, while others do not. Personally, I like my cranberries on the tart side, so I use 2 to 3 tablespoons of honey. Boil the cranberries and honey until all of the cranberries have popped open like popcorn. Then turn down the heat and let the mixture simmer a little longer. At this point, taste the mixture again to make sure it is sweet enough. You can eat the cranberries hot or cool them down and store them in your refrigerator to eat cold. Enjoy the cranberries as a side dish, as a snack, or my favorite way — as a healthy dessert. (For another healthy dessert idea check out my Brain Healthy Pumpkin Pie!)
The Verdict Is In
After one day of eating cranberries, I was shocked to find I no longer had any pain in my joints from my Lyme disease. Experiencing these results sent me to the web once again, and there I found several websites detailing the efficacy of cranberries for treating symptoms of Lyme disease, especially chronic Lyme. One website called My Lyme Disease Treatment contained the quote, “since biofilms are implicated in Lyme disease, perhaps cranberry juice would be a prudent addition to the antibiotic or alternative treatment arsenal.” As well as the absence of pain in my joints, I found I was thinking more clearly and had more energy. So I went back on Medscape and other medical journals and found that another Psychology Today blogger, Linda Wasmer Andrews, had written about this topic in 2013. She discusses the fact that cranberries are renowned for their antioxidant abilities and may help fight off vascular disease and stroke, and also that they also contain a compound called ursolic acid that may protect brain cells from injury.
For Maximum Nutrition, Eat Your Calories
Since discovering how well cranberries work for me, and reading the scientific research that backs this up, I’ve encouraged all of my patients to try making the homemade cranberry relish in order to promote brain health and/or help manage chronic pain or Lyme Disease. I do not encourage consuming cranberry juice or pills, because while doing research on nutrition for my book Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, several leading nutritionists told me that for maximum benefit, we need to chew our food. Each nutritionist I consulted explained the same process. By chewing, you release the necessary chemicals in your saliva for your stomach to process the food properly, obtaining the maximum nutrition and health benefits from that specific food. Juicing or making smoothies provides all of the calories but not all of the nutrition you obtain by chewing food. Stick to drinking water or other non-sugar beverages, and get your nutrition from whole foods. On my Dr. Diane® Brain Health Diet, we only recommend foods you can chew. I’d like to take a moment to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. And I hope you’ll consider including delicious, nutritious homemade cranberry sauce as part of your celebration on Thursday, as well as throughout the year, for better body and brain health. There is a Way!™ -Dr. Diane®