Beneficial health effects of cranberries (CBs) and wild blueberries (BBs), such as reduced levels of oxidative stress, have been demonstrated in feeding studies. These Vaccinium berries contain high levels of flavonoids; however, the bioavailability of flavonoids is generally low. We investigated the in vitro effects of these berries on intestinal cells, focusing on mitigating oxidative stress and associated reactive oxygen species (ROS). First, we simulated the passage of CB and BB through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract by treating berry homogenates to a battery of digestive enzymes. Then, Caco-2 cells, a model of small intestine epithelial uptake, were exposed to these homogenates for 60 min. Using a cell-free assay, we found that the antioxidant activity in CB homogenates was not affected by these enzymes, but that BB homogenates treated with gut enzymes had 43% lower free-radical quenching activity (P < 0.05). However, both of the enzyme-treated homogenates were still able to counteract the ROS-generating ability of H2O2 added exogenously to Caco-2 cells. Berry homogenates also increased mitochondrial metabolic rates at 60 min posttreatment, as measured by MTT assays. Enzyme-treated CB (but not BB) homogenates increased the levels of reduced glutathione (GSH) relative to oxidized glutathione (GSSG), a critical indicator of the cellular redox state (P < 0.05). Our data suggest that CBs do not lose their antioxidant ability when passing through the GI tract, and specifically, digested CB may serve to enhance cytoprotective effects in intestinal cells by reducing potential damage caused by free radicals and ROS derived from other food sources.
Treating cranberries (and to a certain extent, wild blueberries) with gastrointestinal enzymes does not cause them to lose their antioxidant abilities when passing through the mammalian gut. These berries may serve to enhance endogenous protective effects in intestinal cells by reducing potential damage caused by reactive molecules derived from other food sources.