PubMed Food Problem: Cranberry & Cranberries | Update


Because most plant-based foods are under “plants” instead of “food” in PubMed, articles on cranberries may not be retrieved in a search for Food.

By Eric Rumsey, Janna Lawrence and Xiaomei Gu

Part of the problem in searching for food in PubMed is that it’s often the case that there’s a fuzzy border between between food and medicine.   A food that is enjoyed for its taste and general nutritional benefits may have properties that make it therapeutic for specific health conditions. A good example of this is cranberries, and cranberry juice, which may have benefits for prevention of urinary tract infections.

As with most plant-based foods, in MeSH indexing, cranberry is in the Plants explosion, and it’s not in the Diet, Food, and Nutrition explosion. Fortunately, most articles on cranberries and cranberry juice are assigned some Diet, Food, and Nutrition indexing terms so that they are retrieved in searches for the explosion. For instance, articles on cranberry juice are often under Beverages, and some articles on cranberries are under Fruit or Dietary supplements. However, there is still a significant number of relevant articles on the subject that are missed.

To show examples of cranberry-related articles that are not retrieved by the Diet, Food, and Nutrition explosion, we searched for cranberry or cranberries in the article title, limited to human, and retrieved 391 articles. We then combined this with the Diet, Food, and Nutrition explosion. This retrieved 269 articles — 69% of the cranberry/cranberries articles, which is a fairly good retrieval. But still, it’s certainly notable that there are 122 articles that are not retrieved, many of which appear to be very much on target, that don’t contain any Diet, Food, and Nutrition MeSH terms. Here are some examples:

As we mentioned above, plant-based foods are tricky to search in PubMed because the name of the food plant is usually only in Plants, and not in any FDN explosion. The six articles above are all indexed under Vaccinium macrocarpon, the taxonomic name of cranberry, which is in the Plants explosion. So if you were searching for articles on urinary tract infections and plant-based foods, a strategy that would retrieve these articles would be to combine Urinary Tract Infections AND Plants.

The image at the top of the article is original.