Many people are taking cranberry pills as a healthy whole food supplement for better skin and hair and other anti-aging benefits.
You see, when you take a whole food and powder you bring in not just one ingredient like they do in other supplements. You bring in active components, cofactors, and other supportive nutrients that amplify absorption and the end result.
Plus there are thousands of phytonutrients, or plant-specific chemicals, you are ingesting that researchers haven’t even isolated and discovered yet.
A great example of this is with cranberry supplements found as juices, fresh and frozen fruit, tablets, and pills. As you’ll see cranberry is one of the most versatile supplements out there showing that sometimes nature gets it right all by itself.
Our research team found the best cranberry supplements:
1. PureCo Cranberry Concentrate
If all you want is a cranberry extract with no added ingredients, PureCo Cranberry Concentrate is a winner. The dosage is high, at 500 mg of cranberry extract per serving, and there are zero extraneous ingredients, save for the bare minimum needed to keep the vegetarian capsules together.
Ellura is a cranberry extract made specifically for urinary tract health. It contains 36 mg of proanthocyanidins per pill, which are the active ingredient in cranberries that help urinary health.
It’s a strong, highly pure and refined form of cranberry extract that you might call “medical-grade,” even though it’s available over the counter.
3. Sunergetic Kidney Cleanse
This is a prime example of a targeted cranberry extract pill. The main ingredient is still cranberries, but it has a wide array of other ingredients that are targeted towards the same task; namely, a kidney cleanse. It’s a strong candidate for a kidney cleanse, but shouldn’t be used as a general purpose cranberry supplement.
4. Naturebell Cranberry Concentrate
Each serving of Naturebell Cranberry Concentrate provides 600 mg of the raw cranberry extract equivalent to a 60:1 concentration of raw fresh cranberries. It’s a good choice for general-purpose supplementation.
It may not have the purity of the highly refined forms, and it would be nice to see an estimate of the proanthocyanidin content, but it’s still a pretty solid pick.
5. Puritan’s Pride Natural Cranberry Fruit Concentrate
Puritan’s Pride makes a great cranberry pill that provides 500 mg of a 50:1 cranberry concentrate with no additives or superfluous ingredients. The only drawback? The capsule is gelatin-based, so strict vegans will have to look elsewhere.
6. AZO Cranberry
With 500 mg of cranberry extract per serving, plus 120 mg of vitamin C, AZO Cranberry is a good cranberry supplement for general health and well-being. With the extra antioxidant power of vitamin C, the supplement will fight oxidative damage and inflammation even better.
The downside with an all-purpose supplement like this is that it doesn’t have the purity you may need for specific uses, like bladder or kidney cleansing.
7. Zazzee Naturals Cranberry
Zazzee Naturals Organic Cranberry is pretty middle of the road in terms of most of its qualities, but the fact that it is derived from organic cranberries is a nice touch if purity is important to you. At 500 mg per capsule, its dosage is okay, but if you look closely, you’ll see that it’s at 25:1 concentration, versus top-rated supplements which deliver 500 mg of 50:1 concentrate.
8. Pure Healthland Cranberry Concentrate
Whenever a new supplement makes a splash, lots of smaller companies try to cash in by creating their own version of the supplement.
That seems to be the case with Pure Healthland; there’s nothing particularly unique or different about their product, and it’s at half-strength compared to the better cranberry pills out there.
9. Nature’s Bounty Cranberry Fruit
Nature’s Bounty appears to provide a very high dosage of cranberries, but the actual amount of extract is fairly low.
Each serving contains 168 mg of a standardized extract, and while this is equal to 8.4 grams of cranberries, other products offer far higher concentrations.
10. Nature Made Super Strength Cranberry Plus
Unfortunately, this supplement is a case of a big company cutting some cash by offering a supplement with a low concentration.
Quality cranberry extracts use a 50:1 concentrate, while Nature Made only uses a 15:1 concentrate. That means you are getting a far lower dosage of the active ingredients in the cranberries.
Who should buy cranberry pills?
Cranberry pills are best-known for their ability to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections, so people who are at risk for UTIs should definitely consider a cranberry supplement.
Risk factors for UTIs include pregnancy, being postmenopausal in women, disruptions to your body’s normal probiotic population, and people with various neurological conditions. All of these create an environment that may allow bacteria to flourish in your urinary tract, but cranberry pills appear to inhibit the growth of bacteria.
On top of the potential for cranberry pills to reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections, it has also been found to help prevent cavities and improve some gastrointestinal tract problems.
Both of these benefits, incidentally, may be linked to the antibacterial properties of cranberry pills. Since cranberry makes it harder for harmful bacteria to adhere to cells in your body, the effect is fairly general—cranberry makes it harder for bacteria to adhere to your teeth, your intestinal lining, and your urinary tract, all at the same time.
While preventing UTIs are the biggest application of cranberry pills, you shouldn’t overlook the GI tract and oral health benefits as well. These are all on top of the baseline antioxidant properties that you get from cranberry, too.
How we ranked
When formulating our cranberry pill rankings, our most important criteria was delivering an effective dose of cranberry extract.
Depending on the extraction procedure, the same amounts of raw cranberry material can yield different amounts of cranberry extract, so it makes sense to focus on the extract, not the raw material.
We dropped from consideration any supplement that did not explicitly disclose the amount of cranberry extract present in a capsule, so a number of products that had their cranberry content hidden in a proprietary blend were eliminated right at the start.
When possible, we looked for products that listed their proanthocyanidin content—proanthocyanidins are thought to be the active compound that contributes to cranberry pills’ beneficial effects on your urinary tract, but only a handful of products actually list these.
Because cranberry pills are a pretty targeted supplement with several “narrow” applications (versus an antioxidant with a broad range of potential applications, such as resveratrol), we also eliminated products that provided other biologically active compounds with applications that were not specific to the urinary tract.
We kept some multi-ingredient supplements, such as Sunergetic Kidney Cleanse, as the ingredients were focused on a specific task in this case. Even so, these multi-ingredient supplements landed lower in the rankings.
For the remaining products, the most influential factor in determining the final score was clean supplement design. Hyper-pure products, like Ellura and PureCo Cranberry Concentrate, scored very well, while decent supplements that had a bit too many binders and fillers, like Nature Made Cranberry, landed lower in the rankings.
The final rankings provide something for everyone—holistic multi-ingredient supplements that are based around the benefits of cranberry, as well as hyper-pure and focused cranberry pills whose only active ingredient is high-dose cranberry extract.
Cranberry pills may help prevent bladder infections. Bladder and urinary tract infections are cranberry’s biggest claims to fame.
Cranberry works by keeping bacteria from sticking to the walls of your bladder, turning a potential infection that a bacterial water slide because your urine will flush them all out (1).
Taking cranberry on a regular basis works to prevent bacteria from turning bad and sticking to your bladder as seen in one review of 77 patients taking cranberry juice to prevent bladd infections (2).
Cranberry could also treat bladder infections. If you haven’t been taking your cranberry on a regular basis and have come down with a bladder infection don’t worry, cranberry still has your back.
Researchers tested out how cranberry affects men and women with a bladder infection and saw that cranberry juice can treat bladder infections in addition to preventing them (3).
Cranberry has been used to fight ulcers. Facts are that 1 out of 2 men and women are estimated to be housing H. pylori bacteria in their stomach.
This is not the good kind of bacteria. In fact, H. pylori leads to ulcers, gastric cancer, and other complications. Just as cranberry keeps bacteria from sticking to the walls of your bladder and urinary tract, it also shakes H. pylori loose from your stomach walls in just one week (4).
Cranberry fights cavities thanks to its antibacterial properties. Due to cranberry’s ability to stop bacteria from planting their flag on the walls of your body, cranberry is also useful for fighting cavities.
Without a place for bacteria to attach too, you have a lower incidence of cavities (5).
Similarly, you have a lower incidence of gum disease when you regularly enjoy cranberry as illustrated in the research (6).
The one drawback for oral health with cranberry use is that cranberry is acidic. If you consume cranberry before brushing your teeth you can weaken a brush off the enamel.
I recommend either waiting at least an hour between consuming cranberry juice and brushing your teeth.
Cranberry shrinks tumor cells in lab experiments. On the Petri dish, cranberry is seen to crush cancer cells and spare healthy cells (7).
Adding a bit more complexity, studies in rats show that cranberry juice can slow down human breast cancer cell growth (8). Your best option is to consume cranberry before you know you have cancer to prevent it in the first place. While cranberry juice may not kill cancer, it can prevent it from growing or slow down the growth giving you more time to fight the tumor and end up thriving.
Cranberry fights respiratory infections. Turns out that cranberry also inhibits bacteria from sticking to the walls of your respiratory system (9).
There’s even evidence that cranberry can lower the chance of the flu virus invading your cells and getting you sick (10). All these benefits and NO needles, sounds like a win to me.
Cranberry has potent anti-aging benefits. Along with anthocyanins, red cranberries also pack a super nutrient called resveratrol (11). Resveratrol is so popular because it’s seen to pack in many benefits in terms of anti-aging, both in terms of making you look younger and improving your internal health to fight certain types of cancer (12).
Finally, although cranberry is good for your health, it does not prevent heart disease. Researchers back up this claim by giving two groups of women a drink for two weeks. One group had cranberry juice while the other just had a placebo. As a result, researchers found no significant differences.
While these antioxidants showed promise in the test tubes, it may be that they are less effective in the human body.
Going deeper, it may be that I source of cranberry may have been mixed with sugar or other ingredients to reduce the sour taste of cranberry juice and interfering with the effects.
The bottom line here is that more research is needed to claim that cranberry does or doesn’t prevent heart disease.
Cranberry is high in antioxidants. It turns out that many of the same benefits that blueberries (they’re cousins) have also carry over to cranberries. Sure, blueberries and blue and cranberries are red BUT both have anthocyanin and high antioxidant levels (13).
Cranberry is a great for fat loss. Another great option is to simply drink unsweetened cranberry juice. This by itself has many benefits for weight loss. Part of what makes cranberry juice so sour are all the organic acids inside. These acids actually help to increase metabolism and promote fat oxidation, in other words, they speed up fat burning (14).
Similarly, you can replace your soda habit with cranberry juice and carbonated water to add flavor to your drinks but avoid all the added sugar to dramatically boost your fat burning results.
Tip: When you combine them with other fruits, protein powders, or different ingredients you can hide the taste and still reap the benefits.
Cranberry works to strengthen skin. Cranberry is a big source of vitamin C. In fact, it has many different yes of vitamin C, or ascorbic acids, which increases absorption into your body compared to your typical vitamin C supplement (15).
Vitamin C works to improve connective tissue, which translates to better skin health- and no scurvy!
With cranberry as a part of your daily diet you’ll notice that your skin becomes tighter, softer, and more youthful (16).
Cranberry can treat and prevent acne. Another great reason to use cranberry juice topically is because it fights acne. Because cranberry tends to loosen bacterial binding it is seen to remove bacteria from pores and reduce the occurrence of acne (17).
You can dab cranberry juice on with a cotton ball to quickly and easily start seeing results.
Cranberry promotes healthy hair growth. Cranberry is a significant source of fat-soluble vitamins, vitamins A and E. Three vitamins are key for healthy hair growth (18).
Cranberry fights dandruff. Due to the acidity and variety of vitamins and nutrients in cranberry, cranberry juice can also fight dandruff.
Dandruff is an issue with the pH of your scalp. Basically, your skin is not putting out the right amount of oils and becomes dry, flaky, and can halt hair growth in its tracks.
Because cranberry is acidic it can rebalance the pH and promote your scalp to produce more oil naturally (19). At the same time, it is also nourishing and strengthening your hair with its abundance of vitamins A, E, and C.
Cranberry supplementation might help raise HDL (“good”) blood cholesterol. While much of the scientific research on the benefits of cranberry pill supplementation is focused on its applications in urinary tract health, its wider antioxidant abilities have attracted some attention recently.
A paper published by a group of researchers in Iran examined the effects of a cranberry pill supplement on overweight and obese women (20).
The randomized controlled trial split women into one group which received cranberry pills and one group that received a placebo.
Over the eight week duration of the study, the researchers tracked a number of indicators of risk for metabolic problems (i.e. factors that affect the probability that the women would go on to develop type two diabetes in the future).
While most of the indicators of metabolic disease risk didn’t change (like blood pressure, for example), the researchers did find an increase in HDL cholesterol in the cranberry pill group. HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, is so named because higher levels of HDL are associated with a decreased risk for a number of chronic diseases, like heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
These results may make sense in the context of research on other antioxidants which have shown a relationship between antioxidant status and cholesterol levels.
May amplify effects of blood thinners. Salicylic acid is a natural substance most popularly taken in the form of aspirin but is found in other natural foods.
It turns out cranberry is one of those foods (21). Now, this isn’t a big issue for most of the population, so might not have to worry. In fact, it may even help lower blood pressure and improve heart health a bit.
On the other hand, there are some men and women out there who are sensitive to salicylic acid will have the same allergic reaction to therapeutic doses of cranberry (22).
Another caution against supplementing with cranberry is that the salicylic acid can amplify the effects of blood thinners like warfarin (23). Drug interactions from whole foods are dangerous because they’re often underreported. The average person is either unaware that everyday foods can interact with the drugs they take OR they don’t think it’s worth mentioning to their doctor.
Definitely ask a physician if any medications you take could react with common foods, herbal supplements, or other supplements you take on a regular basis.
Cranberry can cause kidney stones in tablet form. Cranberry tablets, by their nature, need to include binders and other additives. Research shows that this can increase the strain on your kidneys and actually increase your risk of getting kidney stones (24).
Cranberry can trigger aspirin allergies. Another downside of cranberries is that the salicylic acid we talked about earlier. Remember, salicylic acid is the main component of aspirin as well.
This means that those men and women suffering from aspirin allergies can also be allergic to cranberries (25).
For best results take twice a day. With these food based supplements, the effects are usually dose-dependent, meaning is the more you consume the more apparent the effects.
According to the top research studies out there, the ideal amount of cranberry you want a day is 300 mg – 400 mg twice a day (26). If you’re favoring cranberry juice over the capsules then you’ll want 8-16 ounces a day split up into at least two cups (27).
Of course, this is only up to a point where the side effects can negate all the positive results we’re looking for. Cranberry juice can have blood thinning effects and those get amplified too with dosage, so you want to be careful about going too high as well.
Q: Do cranberry pills help with weight loss?
A: Research published so far does not indicate that cranberry is a powerful weight loss supplement, though it may have secondary or indirect benefits if you are on a weight loss program.
A recent study in mice, published in the journal Molecular Metabolism, was able to show that a cranberry extract was able to reverse insulin resistance and liver scarring in unhealthy mice, even in the absence of achieving weight loss (these effects would be expected from a simple weight loss program) (28).
More in line with the antibacterial properties of cranberry pills, improvements in your probiotic bacterial levels, which may be brought about by cranberry pills, are thought to help with weight loss as well, though this connection has yet to be demonstrated scientifically in the context of cranberry pills.
Q: Do cranberry pills help with UTI?
A: Urinary tract infections are one of the main applications of cranberry pills. However, there’s quite a lot of heterogeneity in the scientific research, which makes interpreting results challenging.
There are some studies that have found a beneficial effect for cranberry pills on reducing UTIs, particularly among women who have had multiple UTIs in the past.
However, according to a meta-analysis published by the Cochrane Collaboration, an organization that focuses on evidence-based medicine, the latest assessment of the evidence indicates that cranberry supplementation is not significantly better than placebo for most people.
This may be because the majority of studies used cranberry juice as opposed to cranberry pills—cranberry juice is prone to causing an upset stomach, and the dosage of cranberry compounds is low compared to supplemental preparations (29).
However, studies that used cranberry pills have not been precise enough in how the supplement was formulated for meta-analysis studies to determine what dose of cranberry extract, if any, would be effective at reducing the incidence of UTIs.
Q: Can you take cranberry pills every day?
A: Most studies on using cranberry pills, particularly for preventing UTIs, use a daily dose of cranberry pills.
Older research used large volumes of cranberry juice, consumed two or even three times per day, but these studies had problems with high dropout rates, because of the upset stomach that you can get from consuming a lot of cranberry juice every day.
However, the good news is that even in the context of these studies, there are no reports of serious adverse effects.
Q: How many cranberry pills should you take for a UTI?
A: Dosage ranges for cranberry pills is hard to establish, because most previous research used cranberry juice, not the more concentrated cranberry extract that’s used in cranberry pills.
Moreover, a given amount of cranberry extract may contain more or less proanthocyanidins depending on the specific extraction procedure used. Still, a rough guideline is between 300 and 400 mg of cranberry extract taken twice per day.
Scientific meta-analysis studies have specifically indicated that there is a need for more precise research into the optimal dose of cranberry extract, so take these guidelines only as preliminary set-points.
Q: What do cranberry pills do?
A: Cranberry pills contain powerful antioxidants, but they are unique because they contain high concentrations of a type of compound called proanthocyanidins.
These molecules seem to have the ability to inhibit the natural mechanisms that harmful bacteria use to adhere to your cells, which has led to a surge of research into whether this mechanism could help prevent infections or improve the bacterial microbiome inside your body.
On the infection front, some (but not all) research shows that cranberry pills do seem to exert a small but measurable protective effect compared to placebo when it comes to preventing urinary tract infections among people at risk for developing a UTI.
More recent investigations have focused on whether this same anti-adherence mechanism can make life harder for harmful bacteria in your mouth (which cause cavities) and in your digestive tract (where they cause gastrointestinal problems).
Interestingly, the antibacterial effects of cranberry pills aren’t specific to just one type of bacteria; they appear to work broadly against harmful bacteria inside your body.
Q: How long does it take for cranberry pills to work?
A: Despite the large amount of research on cranberry pill supplements, the dynamics of how they work inside your body is surprisingly poorly researched.
One review study draws parallels from research on proanthocyanidins in grapes, which are similar (though not totally identical) to the proanthocyanidins found in cranberries. Animal research shows that these proanthocyanidins are fully absorbed in about 45 minutes, meaning that peak levels of cranberry’s active ingredient occurs pretty quickly in your body.
Other work on cranberry juice shows that anti-adherence activity against bacteria starts to take effect within one to three hours after drinking cranberry juice, providing further evidence that cranberry takes effect very rapidly.
Q: How are cranberry pills made?
A: Cranberry pills are made by powderizing the extract of the cranberry fruit, which is made by taking raw cranberries, crushing them and soaking them in a solvent, then filtering off the solid material left in the solution.
This liquid cranberry extract is then dried into a powder, which is pressed into tablets or formulated into a capsule. Some companies take the extra step of measuring the proanthocyanidin content at this point.
Proanthocyanidins are thought to be responsible for the antibacterial effect of cranberry, which is why their concentration in a cranberry extract is important.
Q: Are cranberry pills safe when pregnant?
A: Since pregnancy is one significant risk factor for the development of urinary tract infections, the issue of cranberry pill safety in women who are pregnant is particularly salient in this case.
Research so far indicates that cranberry as a whole is safe, though there aren’t hard guidelines on precise dosage. One study published in the Journal of Population Therapeutics & Clinical Pharmacology in 2008 argues that there is no direct evidence of safety or harm to the mother or the fetus due to consuming cranberry (30).
The authors of this paper cite experimental evidence, plus a survey of 400 pregnant women which did not find any adverse effects associated with cranberry juice consumption.
A randomized controlled trial also published in 2008 did note that a substantial proportion of the women in the study who were assigned to take cranberry juice withdrew due to an upset stomach, which they attributed to the aggressive dosage protocol (drinking cranberry juice three times per day) (31).
Finally, a 2013 cohort study of women in Norway found no adverse birth outcomes associated with cranberry juice consumption during pregnancy (32).
Cranberry is a whole food supplement that may interact with some medications but is generally very safe.
The biggest benefit to cranberries is that they seem to work all over the body in dislodging dangerous bacteria that can cause infections in your gut, urinary tract, lungs, and even cause acne.
Cranberry can easily be added to your diet, but spray-dried powder pills or cranberry juice are the two most convenient options for you to consume significant amounts of cranberry each and every day.
By far the most-researched application is in urinary tract infections. People who know they are at risk for a urinary tract infection, like postmenopausal women, people with certain neurological disorders, and people with a history of UTIs, may want to consider talking to their doctor about taking cranberry pills.
If you take prescription medication, particularly blood thinners, you should be aware that cranberry pills should not be used in conjunction with these medications.
Other research is exploring more exciting possibilities, such as the idea that cranberry pills may help cut down on the population of harmful bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, though the research on this front is fairly new.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 cranberry pill recommendation, click here.