Like kale and blueberries before it, cranberry juice is the superfood of our times. However, it has been eaten in Europe for years. Centuries ago an American boat crashed off the shores of Terschelling Island in Holland. The cranberries spilt into the sand, found the perfect habitat to grow and spread.
Hence, cranberries are popular worldwide and you might have encountered them while skiing. Often you’ll order a plateful of Wiener schnitzel or frankfurter mit pommes in an obscure ski resort. You’ll see your meal being delivered by the waitress, only to get confused when a mysterious and unidentified dish of purple goo is delivered alongside it.
That goo is in fact cranberry sauce and you should always eat it. Why? It actually tastes good when combined with a salty plate of Austrian fries, and secondly, cranberries and cranberry sauce are indeed a healthy food.
Newspapers have cashed in particularly effectively with screaming headlines about cranberry juice wiping out urinary tract infections. Good news, it does – but one study estimated that any woman who drank cranberry juice for 3.2 years prevented only one infection. It’s pretty feeble overall; don’t let the headline merchants suck you in.
But we couldn’t care less about that. What we’re interested in are the effects of cranberry juice on your skin, your acne, your inflammation levels, your skin tone, and all related subjects. Let’s get started:
Cranberry juice increases antioxidant levels
If you’ve started drinking cranberry juice and been astonished at an improvement in acne then there’s one simple explanation. Antioxidants, compounds which every acne patient must eat if they want to prevent clogged pores and inflamed pimples.
The cranberry is the second highest commercial fruit in antioxidants, and is only beaten by the pomegranate. Consider the superfood blueberry; it is a superfood, if you like to use that term. Raw blueberries have a strong ORAC score of 4669…
…but cranberries absolutely destroy them with a score of 9090. The variety of antioxidants is enormous. Cranberries are the richest common fruit in quercetin as well as a lesser known antioxidant called peonidin. Other antioxidants found in cranberries include myricetin, ursolic acid, and A-type proanthocyanidins. The question is whether the juice is just as strong.
The lower ORAC score of 1452 would say no, but the studies on cranberry juice in humans are more positive. For some reason a ton of them have been conducted:
STUDY ONE – this study gathered 9 heathy women. 3 were ordered to drink 500ml of cranberry juice, 3 were ordered to drink 500ml of blueberry juice and 3 were ordered to drink sucrose solution.
Here we have an interesting comparison between these two arch-rivals among superfruits, and the cranberry juice won. There was a 30% increase in blood vitamin C levels and a small but significant increase in phenolic antioxidant levels. Total blood antioxidant levels increased. With blueberry juice, none of those effects occurred. VERDICT: EXCELLENT.
STUDY TWO – 32 rats were analysed in this study. Two groups were fed either water with an added 27% of cranberry juice or a 45% version. Blood antioxidant levels and bone density were analysed.
The total plasma antioxidant count increased, but there was no effect on bone mineral density. That’s interesting; it could be that cranberry juice increases antioxidant levels but the specific antioxidant types in cranberries have a short half-life and don’t affect anything. On the other hand, antioxidants have never been known for their bone density benefits anyway. VERDICT: MIXED.
STUDY THREE – a gang of scientists wanted to uncover the antioxidant increasing abilities of popular beverages. The scientists were concerned about people being misled by greedy advertisers boasting about antioxidants on billboards.
So this noble team tested fruit juices with many assessment assays, including phenol content, and free radical absorbance capacity (FRAP). Here’s how they ranked: pomegranate juice>red wine> concord grape juice>blueberry juice>black cherry juice, acai juice, cranberry juice>orange juice, iced tea beverages, apple juice.
Cranberry juice didn’t fail miserably – it beat apple juice – but it didn’t succeed wildly either. VERDICT: DECENT.
STUDY FOUR – this study tested the effect of short term cranberry consumption on 21 men with a mean age of 38. After 14 days, the men enjoyed significantly increased plasma antioxidant capacities overall. VERDICT: VERY GOOD.
STUDY FIVE – last but not least, we have a study which the cranberry juice industry is planning to bury at this very moment. 20 healthy females in the prime age of their lives for acne (18-40 years) were fed 750ml of cranberry juice or a placebo for 2 weeks daily.
The juice was analysed and concluded to be much richer in vitamin C, total phenol, anthocyanins and catechin concentrations than the placebo, and to have a higher FRAP score.
The problem was that only the vitamin C translated into the bloodstream when volunteers drunk it. There was no increase in any of the other antioxidants. There were no differences in antioxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismutase either. VERDICT: POOR.
The sugar threat
On the whole, cranberry juice clearly has some power to increase antioxidants.
The juice is not as outstanding as the raw berries themselves, but considering the antioxidants in isolation, cranberry juice would be pretty acne-friendly. It would be a tasty beverage for obtaining all antioxidant-related acne benefits, such as reducing clogged pores and improving skin tone.
But here’s the problem – cranberry juice is a fruit juice. Like all commercial fruit juices, it contains astronomical amounts of sugar with no natural plant matter to slow down the absorption.
Sugar is the one of the worst ingredients for acne ever. Consider raw cranberries themselves. They’re on the low end of the fruit spectrum, containing just 5 grams of sugar per 100 grams. To prevent acne I advise you to keep to 50 grams of sugar daily, on average…
…but when you gather hundreds of cranberries, stick them in a blender, and convert it into a juice you have a pure sugar bomb.
Unsweetened cranberry juice contains 31 grams of sugar per standard satisfying cup of 253ml. Some claim that to maximise the health benefits you have to buy an unsweetened cranberry juice, but 31 grams is still enough to cause acne, and rapidly too.
The count is higher than orange juice and apple juice with 22.3 and 24.3 grams of sugar respectively. Both of those fruits contain twice as much sugar as cranberries in their raw state, but their quantities of plant matter and fiber are low. Bite into them and you’ll know that they’re naturally juicer.
With cranberries it takes a lot more raw berries to make a fresh bottle of juice because they’re more fibrous, and hence you get a lot more sugar as well. That sugar causes acne principally by increasing inflammation dramatically; this study found that a sugary drink increased the inflammation biomarker C – reactive protein by a massive 105%.
If you’ve successfully connected reddened and inflamed pimples to a cheat meal (if so well done), then sugar is the explanation. What really kills fruit juice is the lack of fiber, because with real fruit there’s plant matter to slow the digestion and sugar absorption.
Fruit juice is proclaimed as being healthy, but it contains just as much sugar as coca cola, milk chocolate, or a slice of birthday cake. Cranberry juice is no exception.
Fruit juice contains acne nutrients and antioxidants – see the studies above for proof – but the sugar overwhelms them. Sugar also causes acne by 1) depleting important acne minerals like magnesium and zinc during its metabolization, 2) causing a surge in blood sugar and insulin and consequently oily skin.
Most importantly, high blood sugar levels generate free radicals called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), formed when proteins react with glucose and become useless. These can cause acne just as effectively as free radicals from air pollution, or from frying sunflower oil too harshly.
Awareness of the perils of fruit juice is spreading like a virus, but for some reason, cranberry juice gets a pass. Orange juice and apple juice are seeing their reputation lying in ruins, but cranberry juice still has a great reputation, even though it has the exact same sugary problems.
Is cranberry juice beyond redemption?
We are thus faced with the critical question for acne. If you drink commercial cranberry juice with a meal or by itself while staying sedentary, are the antioxidant benefits enough to counteract the sugar danger?
The answer is a firm no. Drinking cranberry juice alongside some fibrous foods like almonds would help because you’d be adding in fiber to slow the absorption. However, 31 grams per cup is still far too much. Delaying the absorption would decrease the surge in oily skin, but you’d achieve a longer plateau of inflammation.
The studies above are up for debate, because they show increases in blood antioxidants, which is a good result for acne. However the dangers of sugar which are independent of antioxidants aren’t considered; a surge in inflammation would happen, but it wouldn’t be detected if the study was solely analysing antioxidants.
Of course, it depends on how much you drink as well. If you love the taste of cranberry juice and just want to know how to drink it safely then a glass every two days should be safe. Study 1 fed women 500ml of cranberry juice and observed an increase in antioxidants; study 5 fed woman 750ml and noticed no increase. At the higher intake, the higher formation of AGE free radicals from the sugar could have deactivated the increased antioxidants. At 500ml, perhaps the sugar intake was too low.
We can analyse the studies all day, but the answer is clear. Cranberry juice has decent antioxidant properties, but for acne, they’re not strong enough to counteract the surge in sugar.
Homemade cranberry juice is a different proposition though. If you buy a top quality fruit blender you can make your own cranberry juice. This will have the benefit of 1) freshness and 2) increased fiber levels.
The freshness will increase the quantities of vitamin C and antioxidants which often deplete during long storage in factories. With a mild, incomplete blend which is just intense enough to produce a drinkable beverage, you can keep fragments of skin and pulp floating in the juice as well. This would slow the absorption of the sugar.
It’s possible that homemade cranberry juice would tip you over the edge into acne-friendly territory. It would definitely be preferable, without a doubt.
Hit the gym and cranberry juice is yours
If you have a keen eye, you’ll noticed that I said that all this applies if you stay sedentary. If you exercise then cranberry juice is a different proposition.
Sugar which remains in your blood is an acne-causing menace; sugar which is burnt is very useful. If you drink your cranberry juice right before a gym session or jog or cycle ride, you can burn the sugar off quickly and minimise the acne. You can improve your exercise performance as well.
For acne, this is the number one way to extract maximum benefit with minimal downsides for any fruit juice. If you love the taste of cranberry juice, the best way to drink it is as an energy drink. The same is true for apple juice or pomegranate juice.
BONUS POWER – inhibition of a deadly bacteria
Cranberry juice has one last notable power for acne, a power that doesn’t counteract the sugar surge, but is nevertheless interesting and potentially useful.
Word may have reached you that human gut bacteria is gaining a new head of steam as an important health phenomenon. One of the deadliest unhealthy strains is helicobacter pylori, which is linked to stomach cancer, but also skin conditions.
Notably, it is linked to the acne lookalike called acne rosacea. This study concluded that rosacea patients had higher h. pylori activity in their gut flora than average. This study fed h. pylori medication to rosacea patients and observed a big reduction in symptoms. It concluded that “H. pylori may be involved in rosacea and that eradication treatment may be beneficial”.
The fascinating relation to cranberry juice is that through one mechanism or another, it can inhibit the activity of h. pylori. In this study, 295 children drank cranberry juice daily for 3 weeks and h. pylori activity was suppressed in 17% of those who were affected.
Other studies have found that cranberry juice prevents h. pylori from attaching to the wall of the stomach and getting comfortable. The theory is that unique cranberry compounds called A-type proanthocyanidins are responsible.
If you have rosacea then get to the gym tomorrow just so you can get some cranberry juice inside you. Check this article for the symptoms, because if your skin is red and shiny you might not have real acne (acne vulgaris) at all.
For acne, we’re just a millimetre away from hard proof that cranberry juice can clear acne in some people. It’s all dependent on you having a h. pylori overgrowth, but it’s possible that you do have one.
Just because of the h. pylori connection, it might be worth exercising solidly every day and drinking cranberry juice right before you begin, for a month, just to see what happens.
Cranberry juice is not a superfood for acne. Raw cranberry fruits might qualify, but the juice is far too high in sugar and the concentrations of antioxidants are lower.
Here’s your concise strategy. If you’re hunting for acne antioxidants and acne powers, keep searching. There are too many great foods to justify any effort in making cranberry juice safe. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or a basic pomegranate from a supermarket will clear acne and enhance your skin tone effectively.
If you came here to enjoy your favourite beverage without pimples, then cut your intake to one glass every two days. Alternatively, use cranberry juice as an effective pre-workout energy drink.
Thanks for reading!