Animal study: cranberries are an anti-aging drug

Cranberry ~ Biologists at Clemson University in the US have discovered that an extract of cranberry has unusually strong life-extending properties. Cranberry is capable of almost doubling the lifespan of the microscopic worm Caenorhabditis elegans.

Caenorhabditis elegans [see photo below] is a favourite subject for scientists who are looking for substances that have life-extending properties. One of the main reasons is that the tiny animal only lives for a couple of days, so experiments don’t last too long.

Researchers have recently started examining the life-extending effects of natural extracts from a number of plants including blueberry, turmeric and Gingko biloba. Because cranberries also contain interesting compounds the Americans decided to expose Caenorhabditis elegans to extracts of Vaccinium macrocarpon [the botanical name for cranberry].

Some of the worms were given cranberry extract the minute they hatched [Early Start Intervention]; others were only given cranberry extract at a later stage [Late Start Intervention].

In both groups some of the worms were given the cranberry extract for the rest of their life, others were given the extract until they reached middle age [Middle Age]. Others were only given the extract until they reached adulthood [Young Adult].

The figure below shows how the experiment was set up.

Worms given cranberry extract lived longer. The earlier supplementation started and the longer it lasted, the stronger the life-extending effect of the extract.


The worms that received life-long supplementation lived a massive 80.8 percent longer. That’s an impressive result for this kind of study.


The figure on the right reveals how cranberry probably extends life expectancy in Caenorhabditis elegans. It boosts the production of heat shock proteins. These are the molecular equivalent of styrofoam. When a cell gets into difficulties, heat shock proteins envelop the vulnerable molecular structures to prevent them from being damaged.

In another experiment the researchers exposed the worms to a bacteria that causes cholera, Vibrio cholera [see photo below]. The survival chances of the worms that had been given cranberry extracts from very early in life were several tens of percent higher.


“Considering that cranberry extract-mediated prolongevity and stress responses require evolutionarily conserved mechanisms among diverse species ranging from Caenorhabditis elegans to mammals, our findings have imperative implications for the application of cranberry extract in improving healthspan in higher order organisms, including humans”, the researchers conclude. “Noticeably, however, if the similar results would occur in humans still remains unknown.”

Supplement timing of cranberry extract plays a key role in promoting Caenorhabditis elegans healthspan.


Consumption of nutraceuticals is a major and potent dietary intervention for delaying aging. As the timing of administration is critical for the efficacy of bioactive compounds in medicine, the effectiveness of nutraceuticals may also be dramatically affected by the timing of supplementation. Cranberry exact (CBE), rich in polyphenols, is consumed as a nutraceutical, and possesses anti-aging properties. Here, we examined the influence of timing on the beneficial effects of CBE supplementation in C. elegans. The prolongevity effect of CBE in different aged worms, young adults, middle-age adults, and aged adults, was determined. Early-start intervention with CBE prolonged the remaining lifespan of worms of different ages more robustly than late-start intervention. The effectiveness of CBE on stress responses and physiological behaviors in different aged worms was also investigated. The early-start intervention prominently promoted motility and resistance to heat shocks and V. cholera infection, especially in aged worms. Together, these findings suggest that the timing of CBE supplementation critically influences its beneficial effects on C. elegans lifespan and healthspan. It is of interest to further investigate whether the similar results would occur in humans.

PMID: 24566444 [PubMed – in process] PMCID: PMC3942739