Fundamentals of Human Nutrition/Nutrition and Bioactive Compounds

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16.2 Nutrition and Bioactive Compounds[edit]

Bioactive compounds: A bioactive compound is a chemical found in foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, oils and nuts. It is present in only small amounts and when derived from plants, it is called a phytochemical. These compounds are important in nutrition because they have been found to promote bodily actions that lead to good health while preventing chronic disease. (“Definition” 2015). Based on current research data, bioactive compounds have the potential to prevent heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Many bioactive compounds are antioxidants that quench free radicals in the body. This action prevents cellular and protein destruction. The bioactive properties in berries, tropical fruits and apples have been studied extensively and are believed to have significant health benefits because they contain a variety of phytochemicals. Even though we know the health benefits of bioactive compounds and the result of antioxidant activity in the body, there is still research to be done on their absorption and mechanisms of action that will allow for more comprehensive understanding of bioactive compounds and their future use in medical treatment. (González-Aguilar et al.2008).

Cranberries: Berries in general have a high concentration of two phytochemicals called flavonoids and anthocyanins that act as antioxidants. The amount of antioxidant found in cranberries depends on factors such as growing season, UV ray intensity, maturity during harvesting, conditions during processing, and storage temperature. There have been multiple studies that show phytochemicals present in cranberries and in other berries have the potential to protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease in addition to possessing anti-inflammatory properties (González-Aguilar et al 2008). In this research, cranberries are distinct from other berry fruits in that their phytochemicals are A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs) while most other berries contain B-type PACs. It has been found that A-type PACs might be more effective at maintaining cardiovascular and urinary tract health than B-type PACs (Blumberg et al. 2013).

Cranberries and Urinary Tract Infections: Recently, there has been specific attention focused on the efficacy of cranberries in decreasing the prevalence of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Taking a nutritional path towards UTI treatment as opposed to the traditional antibiotic route has significant long-term benefits to medicine as a whole. Presently, mild antibiotic therapy is used to treat UTIs. Even though it is effective, incomplete or frequent antibiotic treatment leads to the development of resistant strains of bacteria that become increasingly difficult to treat. As a result, stronger and more expensive new antibiotics must be created to fight infection, which is not an easy task.

In trials, cranberry has been the most widely studied successful alternative remedy for UTIs. While this alternative remedy has promise, there are many variables to consider in treatment such as patient population, compliance with medical treatment, and the source or mechanism of infection. Moreover, the ideal dosage of cranberry for treatment is yet to be determined so more research on the topic is needed before it becomes a more understood and mainstream treatment option (Blumberg et al. 2013). 

Cranberries and Cardiovascular Health: There is experimental evidence that supports the idea that cranberries have positive effects on glucose metabolism, blood pressure, cholesterol profile, and inflammation. These factors are crucial in maintaining good cardiovascular health and in preventing complaints such as “atherogenesis, plaque rupture, lesion progression, thrombosis, and myocardial infarction with ischemic cardiomyopathy” (Blumberg et al. 2013). Cranberries have been shown in animal and human studies to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol leading to improved lipid profiles along with less plaque buildup in the vasculature. The mechanism of this action is not completely understood at this time but it is suggested that cranberry extract may increase the LDL receptor gene expression, leading to increased uptake of LDL into the cells and out of the blood serum. Consequently, the risk for plaque buildup that leads to myocardial infarction, vascular disease, and stroke is decreased with a controlled lipid profile (Blumberg et al. 2013).

Cranberries in the Diet: Even though they are not usually consumed raw, cranberries can be found in a variety of everyday foods such as: 1. Sauces 2. Juice 3. Dried in cereal or cereal bars 4. Cheese 5. Chocolate and other desserts 6. Cranberry supplements Due to their tart nature, added sugar is almost always present in cranberry foods. On average, the sugar content of sweetened cranberry juice is approximately 11.7g/100 mL. However, this is less than the 16.5 g/100 mL of sugar found in grape juice. Despite this, with the proper diet cranberry products can fit within the total fat, calorie, saturated fat, sodium and trans fat recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Blumberg et al. 2013).

References Blumberg, J. B., Camesano, T. A., Cassidy, A., Kris-Etherton, P., Howell, A., Manach, C., . . . Vita, J. A. (2013). Cranberries and Their Bioactive Constituents in Human Health. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal, 4(6), 618-632. doi:10.3945/an.113.004473 Definition of bioactive compound - NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. (n.d.). Retrieved December 02, 2015, from González-Aguilar, G., Robles-Sánchez, R., Martínez-Téllez, M., Olivas, G., Alvarez-Parrilla, E., & Rosa, L. D. (2008). Bioactive compounds in fruits: Health benefits and effect of storage conditions.Stewart Postharvest Review, 4(3), 1-10. doi:10.2212/spr.2008.3.8

Submitted by Katherine Deily


Consumption of fruits and veggies has been correlated with a decrease in cardiometabolic risks such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and stroke (Novotny, Baer, Khoo, Gebauer, Charron 2015). The combined percentage of death in 2013 caused by cardiometabolic risks was 32% (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). These diseases are preventable if people are made aware of things they can do to lower these risks and are willing to make those lifestyle changes. The primary things that people need to do in order to changes in their lives are to exercise more often and eat more healthy, nutritious foods. Consumption of berries, such as cranberries, has many health benefits that will help to lower cardiometabolic risks (Basu, Phone, Lyons 2010).

While it is common knowledge that cranberries help with urinary tract infections, they also contain high concentrations of many bioactive components such as flavonols, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins, which have been shown to decrease cardiometabolic risks (Milner, 2002). Flavonoids are antioxidants and inhibit LDL cholesterol and aggregation and adhesion of platelets (Reed, 2002). Platelet aggregation is uncommon in a typical healthy person but is more often found in people with diabetes, smokers, and in patients who suffer from hypertension and elevated levels of LDL. Flavonoids prevent the aggravated platelets from adhering to the sides and walls of the vascular system and thus help decrease the risk for coronary heart disease and stroke by keeping the blood vessels clean and free from extra cholesterol (Reed, 2002). Flavonods are considered to be antioxidants because they help to prevent cancer in patients by absorbing free radicals found in the body (Reed, 2002). Anythocyanins are plant pigments that provide the bright colors in different fruits. In most fruits, they are primarily located in the skin and outer surface but in red fruits, such as cranberries, they are also located throughout the flesh of the fruit (Basu, Phone, Lyons 2010). Anythocyanins, similarly to flavonoids, have been shown to decrease cardiometabolic health risks and are considered an antioxidant. They inhibit the release of activated oxygen from white blood cells, and absorb free radicals typically released from lipid oxidation (Duthie, Jenkinson, Crozier, Mullen, Pirie, Kyle, Yap, Christen, Duthie, 2006). It has also been shown that anythocyanins protect the DNA in the human colon from oxidation and have been successfully used to inhibit tumor cell growth (Duthie, Jenkinson, Crozier, Mullen, Pirie, Kyle, Yap, Christen, Duthie, 2006). The proanthocyanidin in cranberries is what helps with urinary tract infections by preventing bacteria from attaching to mucosal surfaces (Ruel, Couillard, 2007). This substance has also shown to have anti-inflammatory properties by inhibiting the activation of the destructive enzymes (Ruel, Couillard, 2007).

In conclusion, cranberries contain high concentrations of many different substances that have been proven to decrease cardiometabolic health risks and decrease the risk of cancer through their antioxidant properties. For people looking to improve their health, it is recommend that they eat more fruits and veggies, specifically ones that contain plenty of nutritional value such as antioxidant cranberries.

References 1) Basu, A., Phone M., Lyons, TJ.. Berries: Emerging Impact on Cardiovascular Health. Nutr Rev. 2010 Mar;68(3):168-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00273.x. 2) Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Oct. 2014. Mortality in the United States, 2012. Accessed: 2015 June 07. Available from: 3) Ruel G., Couillard C.. Evidences of the Cardioprotective Potential of Fruits: The Case of Cranberries. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Jun;51(6):692-701. 4) Duthie SJ., Jenkinson AM., Crozier A., Mullen W., Pirie L., Kyle J., Yap LS., Christen P., Duthie GG.. The Effects of Cranberry Juice Consumption on Antioxidant Status and Biomarkers Relating to Heart Disease and Cancer in Healthy Human Volunteers. Eur J Nutr. 2006 Mar;45(2):113-22. Epub 2005 Jul 20. 5) Reed J.. Cranberry Flavonoids, Atherosclerosis and Cardiovascular Health. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2002;42(3 Suppl):301-16. 6) Milner JA.. Foods and Health Promotion: The Case for Cranberry. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2002;42(3 Suppl):265-6. 7) Novotny JA, Baer DJ, Khoo C, Gebauer SK, Charron CS. Cranberry Juice Consumption Lowers Markers of Cardiometabolic Risk, including Blood Pressure and Circulating C - reactive Protein, Triglyceride, and Glucose Concentrations in Adults. J Nutr. 2015 Apr 22. doi: 10.3945/jn.114.203190

Submitted by Faith Totten