“It’s good for the male organ,” my grandmother said

“It’s good for the male organ,” my grandmother said

My maternal grandmother (“Nana”) was an interesting and opinionated woman. She once caused a stir among the residents of my hard-to-impress freshman dorm at Wesleyan by arriving in leather pants.

Nana wasn’t shy about sharing her views about health and wellness, which were derived from a combination of the New York Times, her upbringing in New York City, conversations at the country club, and personal experience. Quite a bit of what she said was on the mark. She stayed active throughout her life, hitting a hole-in-one while in her mid-70s, and maintaining a youthful attitude. When friends of hers in their late 70s bought a new car and told her, “this one should see us out,” she was horrified and said “they are as good as dead” if that’s how they felt.

Nana was a big fan of the cranberry. She had a summer home next to a cranberry bog and made an arrangement with the bog’s owner that allowed her to pick the edges of the bog that the mechanical harvester couldn’t get to. When we were growing up she sent bags of cranberries to the extended family. I grew up eating homemade cranberry bread, cranberry muffins, and cranberry sauce.

Somewhere along the line Nana must have heard something about the research suggesting that cranberries were effective against urinary tract infections, although her interpretation had a slight twist:

“Cranberries are good for the male organ,” she used to tell my brothers and me in the presence of my grandfather. We never argued.

Nana’s not alive anymore, but she would have been excited to read the recent news on cranberries. Nana didn’t bother reading the Boston Globe, so someone might have had to point out the story, “Does Cranberry Juice Prevent Urinary Tract Infections?

The queen of cranberry science, Amy Howell, an associate research scientist at Rutgers University in Chatsworth, N.J., said that overall, research suggests that eight to 10 ounces a day of cranberry juice cocktail drink, sweetened with either sugar or artificial sweetener, has been shown clinically to reduce urinary tract infections by 50 percent. For years, people thought cranberry juice might combat urinary tract infections by making urine more acidic, thus making it harder for bacteria to grow. Now, thanks to the work of Howell and others, it is known that a chemical in cranberries called proanthocyanidin blocks infections by coating E. coli, the major culprit, so that it cannot stick to cells in the bladder. “If you prevent the adhesion, the bacteria won’t multiply and cause infection,” Howell said.

Nana was also a big fan of blueberries. We used to go “berrying” with her in the woods before other houses were built nearby. I don’t remember hearing anything special about their health benefits from her, but as a blueberry lover I was heartened to read:

A similar version of proanthocyanidin is found in blueberries, said Dr. Kalpana Gupta, assistant professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine.

Who knows, maybe we’ll soon see research suggesting that cranberry juice is “good for the male organ” after all. Look out, Viagra!

September 20, 2006

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