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Health Benefits of Lingonberries (Cowberries)

Why Lingonberries Are Healthy

Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) have been used for centuries both as food and as medicine. Also known as foxberries or cowberries, these tart red berries can be eaten raw or they can be processed into delicious lingonberry jam or syrup (popular in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries). When used primarily for their health benefits, lingonberries are also often juiced or ingested in supplemental form. The purported medicinal properties and nutritional benefits of whole lingonberries and lingonberry juice have been attributed to a wide range of beneficial compounds found in these superberries, including quercetin and proanthocyanidin (also abundant in cranberries). Furthermore, lingonberry leaves have been shown to contain bioactive compounds such as arbutin, a phytochemical that is also found in the much-touted bearberry products promoted by Dr. Oz. Here's the full scoop on the potential medicinal properties of lingonberry fruits and leaves:

Quercetin in Lingonberries and Cowberries Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties

In folk medicine, lingonberries and cowberries have been used as a natural remedy for the pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. While large-scale controlled trials are still needed to scientifically evaluate whether eating whole lingonberries and cowberries can really provide significant health benefits for arthritis sufferers, scientific studies have proven that lingonberries contain compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties.

A study conducted at the University of Kuopio, Finland, found that lingonberries contained extremely high amounts of quercetin, a flavonoid with strong anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, only bog whortleberries were shown to contain more quercetin than wild lingonberries in this study which assessed the quercetin content of twenty-two berries.

Lingonberry Juice – A Good Treatment for Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections?

Cranberries are a real superfood with many benefits, protection against recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) being one of their most famous health benefits. The anti-UTI effects of cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and cranberry juice have been largely attributed to the presence of A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs) in cranberries. These flavanoids have been shown to inhibit the adhesion of Escherichia coli, the main UTI-causing bacterium, to the urinary tract wall.

Apart from cranberries, there are only a few natural sources of A-type PACs. Plums, avocados, peanuts, and cinnamon have been shown to contain some A-type PACs, but in relatively low concentrations. In fact, it has been reported that among plant-based natural foods, only lingonberries contain A-type PACs in amounts similar to those found in cranberries. However, large-scale clinical trials are still needed to evaluate whether lingonberries and lingonberry juice have anti-UTI effects comparable to those of cranberries.

Lingonberry Extract Shows Inhibitory Activity Against Cancer Cells

Lingonberries have been shown to exert inhibitory activity against several types of cancer cells, including leukemia, colon, and cervical cancer cells. While it is not uncommon for berries to demonstrate anti-cancer activity, the procyanidins that are responsible for the antiproliferative effects of lingonberries and cowberries do not appear to be responsible for the antiproliferative effects of many other berries.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2008 attributed the antiproliferative effects of strawberry, cloudberry, arctic bramble, and raspberry extracts to polyphenols, especially the ellagitannins, but found that the antiproliferative activity of lingonberries was predominantly by caused procyanidins.

Lingonberries May Promote Oral Health

Periodontal disease results from chronic infection and inflammation of the gums which support the teeth. This inflammatory gum disease is dangerous enough by itself, but it can also lead to the development of a number of other diseases and health problems, including diabetes, pre-term deliveries and low birth weight, and cardiovascular problems. As periodontal disease is largely driven by bacterial overgrowth, one of the best ways to prevent it is to practice good oral hygiene.

Following a diet that is low in sugar and high in foods that have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties may also help prevent periodontal disease. As pointed out earlier in this article, lingonberries are an excellent dietary source of quercetin, a potent anti-inflammatory compound. But in the context of oral health, the benefits of lingonberries may be much broader. A study published in the February 2001 issue of the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology found that a tannin extracted from lingonberries had strong antimicrobial activity against Porphyromonas gingivalis and Prevotella intermedia, two bacteria that have been implicated in the pathogenesis of periodontal disease.

Lingonberry Leaves Contain the Same Anti-Hyperpigmentation Agent as Bearberry Leaves

If you watch the Dr. Oz show on TV, you may have heard about the benefits of bearberry extract for people with age spots. In Dr. Oz's anti-aging guide for 2014, the leaves of the Common Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) were singled out as a remedy for age spots and hyperpigmentation due to the arbutin they contain. Arbutin is a phytochemical that has been shown to inactivate tyrosinase, an enzyme that is responsible for skin pigmentation.

But the bearberry bush is not the only wild-growing, berry-bearing shrub that has arbutin-containing leaves; also lingonberry or cowberry leaves have been shown to contain significant levels of arbutin. However, it may still take a while before skin care products featuring arbutin-rich lingonberry leaf extracts populate the shelves in the store. So, if you're looking for natural arbutin-containing products, bearberry products may be the way to go. (Tip: The online retailer Amazon has an impressive array of bearberry products available here for US-based customers, and here for UK customers.)

Uses in Folk Medicine

Practitioners of herbal and folk medicine also claim that lingonberries can prevent or treat conditions like water retention, diabetes mellitus, fever, and certain gastrointestinal disorders. However, at the writing of this article, no or limited research is available to support these claims.

Where to Buy Lingonberry Jam, Juice, or Dried Berries

In Scandinavia where lingonberries grow wild in almost every forest, finding lingonberry products in the supermarkets and health food stores is a piece of cake. But if you live in the UK or US, finding lingonberry products in regular stores may be more difficult (especially if you're looking for something more exotic than lingonberry jam). Luckily, however, many online stores specialized in 'superfoods' or Scandinavian products sell all sorts of lingonberry products, from juice concentrates and jams to dried berries and dietary supplements. When you're trying to find lingonberry products online, keep in mind that these superberries can also be called cowberries or Vaccinium vitis-idaea.

If you don't have the patience to browse the websites of individual online shops, you may want to directly head to Amazon. Amazon's US branch has an impressive range of lingonberry products available here , while their UK branch caters to the shopping needs of lingonberry fans here .

1. S. Hakkinen (2000). Flavonols and Phenolic Acids in Berries and Berry Products. Kuopio University Publications D. Medical Sciences 221.
2. J. Blumberg et al (2013). Cranberries and Their Bioactive Constituents in Human Health. Advances in Nutrition, 4, 618-632.
3. Wang et al (2005). Antioxidant Activity in Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea L.) and Its Inhibitory Effect on Activator Protein-1, Nuclear Factor-KB, and Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases Activation. J. Agric. Food Chem., 53(8), 3156-3166.
4. Gordon J. McDougall et al (2008). Berry Extracts Exert Different Antiproliferative Effects against Cervical and Colon Cancer Cells Grown in Vitro. J. Agric. Food Chem., 56 (9), pp 3016-3023.
5. K. Ho (2001). Antimicrobial activity of tannin components from Vaccinium vitis-idaea L. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 53(2), 187-191.
6. N. Radulovic, P. Blagojevic, and R. Palic (2010). Comparative Study of the Leaf Volatiles of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng. and Vaccinium vitis-idaea L. (Ericaceae). Molecules, 15, 6168-6185.

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