It isn’t often that a study is published that speaks directly to foods that extend longevity. Of course we understand that our lifestyles play a significant role in our life span, as does our genetic history. But a recent study has reported that supplementing our diets with cranberries can have an influence on life span, and it’s pretty fascinating.
Published last month in Experimental Gerontology, researchers report that cranberry supplementation reduces cancer-causing oxidative damage and oxidative stress response in fruit flies. The health benefits of the supplement were significant enough to lower age-specific mortality rate and extend the lifespan of the fly during any of the three life stages of the insect; health, transition, and senescence. In humans, these stages equate to young adulthood, middle age, and old age.
Researchers felt that the long-lasting effect of cranberry supplementation is probably to to its ability to change signaling pathways and epigenetic status. The findings suggest that cranberries may be a viable option for aging interventions in humans of different ages. The three life stages in question reflect distinct changes that occur as we age. At the molecular level, these adjustments involve gene expression and oxidative damage to important molecules in our body. These stages pertain to how our cells become less able to handle metabolism and stress over time. The behavioral and cognitive aspects to aging are associated with a decline in locomotor activity, learning and memory.
Authors noted that it’s challenging to develop effective aging interventions. Often an intervention starting in young adulthood might be costly and impractical to implement and may miss interventions that are effective in certain life stages.
For example, curcumin — a substance in the popular South Asian spice turmeric — was discovered to be beneficial when implemented early in life (the health stage) but harmful if given late in late life (the transition or senescence stage). Conversely, the molecule sodium butyrate was shown to have the opposite effect by increasing lifespan when given during later life stages of the fruit fly, but not earlier.
In the current study, researchers fed a high-sugar diet supplemented with 2 percent cranberry extract to groups of 100 to 200 flies that were sequestered in separate vials. Flies that were given the cranberry supplement during the health stage had a 25 percent longer lifespan than flies that didn’t receive any cranberry in their diet. Flies in the transition and senescence phases of their lives also benefited from having cranberry in their diet, living 30 percent longer than controls.
Overall, the study was the first to show the beneficial effects of cranberry supplement regardless of age. “To our knowledge, cranberry is the first case showing that a pharmaceutical or nutraceutical can promote longevity when administered during any of the three distinct life stages,” the authors concluded. “Future studies are warranted to determine how cranberry extends lifespan during different life stages. Such studies are important because different mechanisms may be involved during different life stages.”
So if cranberries are a part of our regular diet throughout our lives, there may be significant benefits for our life span. That’s a big advantage to be gained from such a small berry. And FoodFacts.com likes the idea that we can cook with the fresh berries, or add some dried to our salads and vegetable dishes, or enjoy a good quality cranberry juice. Antioxident power. Tart, interesting flavor. Great color and texture. And now cranberries might help us live longer, too!