In one study, cranberry health researcher Catherine Neto, PhD, and her colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth took brain cells from rats, grew them in the lab, and then exposed them to stroke-like conditions.
Specifically, one group of cells was deprived of oxygen and glucose, simulating what happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked during a stroke. Another group of cells was exposed to hydrogen peroxide, simulating what happens when blood flow to the brain is restored after a stroke. The process of restoring circulation causes oxidative stress, which leads to further cell damage and death.
Next, both groups of cells were exposed to varying concentrations of cranberry extract. The highest concentration, roughly equivalent to a half-cup of whole cranberries, reduced the death of brain cells by half.
Another promising line of research focuses on a specific compound in cranberries called ursolic acid. This acid has generated buzz for its possible anti-cancer effects. But recent research from Xuzhou Normal University in China suggests that ursolic acid may also help protect brain cells from injury or degeneration.
In one recent study, mice were injected with domoic acid. This toxin carried by shellfish can cause lasting loss of short-term memory in humans, and it can also cause problems with learning and memory in mice. But when mice in the study were subsequently given ursolic acid, it helped reverse the cognitive deficits.