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Cranberry Juice For Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

by | Jul 18, 2022 | Sexual & Reproductive Health

Can drinking cranberry juice prevent or treat urinary tract infections?

If a minor slip of luck has caused you to fall into the 60% of women to contract a urinary tract infection, chances are that someone in your life has suggested cranberry juice, cranberry supplements, or cranberry capsules to relieve UTI symptoms and prevent UTIs in the future.

Let’s be honest. When you’re in the depths of experiencing constant and uncontrollable urges to pee, and excruciating burning sensations when peeing or having sex (aka the most common symptoms of a UTI), you’d be willing to try anything to fast-track the recovery of a urinary tract infection. But is there any truth to cranberry products effectively treating UTIs or preventing urinary tract infections in the first place?

Should we coin ‘cranberry treatment’ as the replacement for antibiotics when treating this gnarly infection of the urinary system?

First, what is a urinary tract infection?

Urinary tract infections are self explanatory in that they’re an infection in any part of the urinary system. That includes your urethra, bladder, kidneys, and ureters. The most commonly affected parts of the urinary system are the lower urinary tract – the bladder and urethra.

Who is at risk of urinary tract infections?

Urinary tract infections are incredibly common and have been estimated to occur in at least 60% of women at some stage during their lives. That’s right. More than half of the female population will experience a UTI once in their life, if not several times.

What’s equally devastating is that sexually active women have a greater UTI risk than non-sexually active women. That’s not to say that only sexually active women contract UTIs, but they have an increased UTI risk since bacteria within the vicinity of the vagina can inadvertently enter the body through sexual activity (what fun!).

What are the symptoms of urinary tract infections?

Many women are familiar with the hallmark UTI symptoms of a strong and constant urge to pee (even when you don’t actually need to pee), burning sensations in the vaginal area when urinating or engaging in sexual activity, cloudy urine, and pelvic pain.

Depending on what part of the urinary tract is affected by infection, symptoms can differ. A UTI that affects the bladder may cause symptoms of increased pelvic pressure, abdominal discomfort, frequent urination, painful urination, or blood in the urine. A UTI that affects the kidneys may cause symptoms of upper back and side pain (that may feel like you have a stitch), fever, chills, trembling, nausea, or vomiting.

What causes urinary tract infections?

Urinary tract infections are the result of bacteria entering the urinary tract through the urethra. Once bacteria has trespassed into the urethra, it basically gains an all access pass to the bladder and kidneys, causing further issues and UTI symptoms.

Women have a higher risk of contracting UTIs in comparison to men. The reason is purely anatomical. Women have a shorter distance between their urethra and anus, which increases a woman’s risk of contracting UTIs from faecal bacteria.

Certain types of contraception, such as diaphragms, may also increase a woman’s risk of contracting urinary tract infections.

How to treat urinary tract infections?

Typically, oral antibiotics are the quickest, most effective way to treat UTIs.

Antibiotics work by killing the bacteria that caused the infection. With an antibiotic prescription, symptoms should totally clear up within a few days, but make sure to always complete the full course prescribed by your doctor to reduce the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is a downside of antibiotic use, particularly for women who experience recurrent UTIs, where overuse can cause an inefficacy of the medication, and difficulty in treating future infections.

In mild cases of urinary tract infections, symptoms can resolve without medical intervention. So, avoiding a course of antibiotics may be beneficial for many women. Your doctor will be your best source of advice on the best UTI treatment for you.

 

Now, on to the cranberries

Just to be clear, when referring to ‘cranberry products’, we’re talking about:

  • Unsweetened cranberry juice (unsweetened cranberry juice, because sugar isn’t good for an infection)
  • Cranberry juice capsules
  • Cranberry extract
  • Cranberry supplements
  • Fresh whole fruit cranberries
  • Cranberry powders

We’d even go as far to suggest a cranberry juice cocktail if science backs up the claims. As for the Irish rock band; if blasting The Cranberries takes your mind off your UTI symptoms if only momentarily, we totally support that (we just can’t back it up with science).

 

So, can drinking cranberry juice, taking a cranberry supplement, or popping a daily cranberry capsule be useful in preventing urinary tract infections?

Cranberry products have been widely used in preventing urinary tract infections for decades.

The theory behind the method is that cranberries contain a substance that can prevent bacterial adhesion on the walls of the bladder. This may help prevent bladder infections and urinary tract infections from developing.

Cranberries also have antibacterial properties, which may help undo the damage caused by unwanted bacteria in urinary tract infections (UTIs).

What does the research tell us about cranberry products for UTI prevention?

The results of clinical studies on cranberry products for UTI prevention are mixed. Some research suggests that cranberry products, like cranberry juice and cranberry supplements, may reduce the risk of contracting urinary tract infections in some populations. While other research suggests no real benefit in cranberry juice consumption for UTI prevention.

The mixed results may be the by-product of inconsistencies in the type of cranberry products (juice, tablet, extract, or powder), dosage, and amount of cranberry proanthocyanins (a class of polyphenols) in the products used for testing.

The strongest evidence for using cranberries to prevent UTIs is among women with recurrent UTIs.

 

Let’s look at some of the more promising clinical trials

This meta-analysis of seven high quality studies found that cranberry juice consumption and cranberry supplements contributed towards a significant reduction of UTI recurrence in women, decreasing the risk of UTIs by 26%.

Following the 2008 Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews where 1,049 patients were observed across ten randomised trials, research suggests that cranberry juice may decrease the number of symptomatic UTIs over a 12 month period, particularly for women with recurrent UTIs.

At the completion of this randomised trial of cranberry-lingonberry juice and Lactobacillus GG drink for the prevention of urinary tract infections in women, it was found that regular cranberry juice consumption but not lactobacillus seems to reduce the recurrence of urinary tract infection.

For UTI prevention in young women, cranberry juice and cranberry capsules were tested against placebo in women aged 21 to 72 years old. It was found that 32% of the placebo group contracted a UTI whereas 20% of the cranberry juice group and 18% of the cranberry capsules group contracted UTIs. A big win for the cranberry groups!

Let’s look at some of the less promising clinical trials

One study analysed cranberry juice consumption to prevent UTIs in pregnant women. Three groups of pregnant women were randomised into three groups: one group consumed cranberries three times daily, another group consumed cranberries once in the morning and then a placebo, and the third group consumed the placebo three times daily.

No significant difference between the three groups was noted at the end of the randomized trial. However, compliance and tolerability were considerable obstacles in this study with almost 29% of women not completing the study due to gastrointestinal upset and bad taste.

Then, in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, a UTI recurrence of 19.3% was noted in individuals with a daily cranberry juice consumption of 8-oz in comparison to a UTI recurrence of 14.6% for the placebo group.

Can cranberry juice treat UTIs?

Cranberries have been tested for their clinical relevance in many different conditions. While there’s evidence to suggest that cranberry products like cranberry juice and cranberry extract may help with UTI prevention for some women, cranberry products have been deemed ineffective in treating UTIs.

More research is required to determine whether cranberry products are an effective treatment option for women with active urinary tract infections.

Let’s look at the clinical trials for cranberry products as a treatment for UTIs

One review that included three high quality studies concluded that, overall, there wasn’t enough evidence to show that cranberry extract helps treat active UTIs.

Another study involving 46 women found that taking cranberry capsules both alone and when combined with antibiotics may help reduce the need for antibiotic use and improve certain UTI-related symptoms in women with active UTIs.

It’s important to note that this was a feasibility study with 46 participants, designed to assess whether a larger scale study would be feasible. Thus, the results may not be as robust as the results of a larger, high quality study.

Some women in the study noted that taking the cranberry supplements helped reduce antibiotic use and helped “clear the infection” more quickly than antibiotics alone, while others reported no improvement when they took the cranberry supplements.

And in case you were wondering, the effects of cranberry juice consumption on urinary stone risk factors have also been studied, however no significant results have been determined and more studies are required.

 

Other ways to prevent UTIs

Urinary tract infections are one of those painfully annoying health conditions that can appear despite you trying your best to avoid them. Like most health conditions, UTI prevention isn’t guaranteed, but there are some ways to boost your urinary tract health and minimise your risk of letting bacteria cause an infection in your urinary system.

Stay hydrated

The power of water goes a long way in helping to reduce the risk of contracting a UTI. Water consumption dilutes and adds volume to your urine, prompting you to urinate more often. When you’re visiting the loo more often, your body naturally flushes out UTI-causing bacteria.

How much water should you drink? Some studies suggest drinking 6-8 cups (1.5-2 litres) of water per day to protect against UTI recurrence in women.

Avoid certain foods and beverages

Diets high in fizzy drinks, coffee, alcohol, artificially sweetened drinks, and animal proteins may increase UTI risk and worsen the severity of symptoms.

Give probiotics a go

Probiotics are considered the good bacteria of the gut microbiome, and they naturally occur in certain foods like fermented vegetables (kimchi and sauerkraut) and live-culture yoghurt.

If fermented foods don’t whet your appetite, you can also find probiotics in tablet and powder form at your local pharmacy.

Wipe front to back

Wiping front to back reduces the risk of spreading bacteria from your back end to your vaginal canal. A simple sanitary practice that can prevent UTIs from ruining your day.

Don’t hold your pee

When visiting the restroom, allow a free and full release of your bladder to avoid bacteria build-up and bacterial adhesion.

Pee immediately after sex

Sexual penetration makes it easier for bacteria to enter the urinary tract, and what goes in doesn’t necessarily come back out. Although it may seem like a sexual buzzkill, peeing immediately after sex will help to flush the bacteria from your system. Save the post-coital cuddles for a few minutes.

 

The bottom line

Cranberry products have been hailed as the miracle UTI cure for years, however the research is mixed. Cranberry products as a method for UTI prevention appear promising, particularly for women who experience recurrent UTIs, and especially with cranberry extract that has a higher amount of active compounds.

To treat UTIs, we recommend working with your trusted healthcare professional for the best form of treatment.

At the end of the day, there are minimal side effects associate with cranberry juice and other cranberry products. So, no real harm can be caused from trialling different cranberry products to see if they work for you.

 

For hassle-free healthcare

If you’re looking for expert advice on how to treat and prevent UTIs, start the convo with a Youly healthcare professional today.


Sources
Hisano M, Bruschini H, Nicodemo AC, Srougi M. Cranberries and lower urinary tract infection prevention. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2012;67(6):661-668. doi:10.6061/clinics/2012(06)18

Kontiokari T, Sundqvist K, Nuutinen M, Pokka T, Koskela M, Uhari M. Randomised trial of cranberry-lingonberry juice and Lactobacillus GG drink for the prevention of urinary tract infections in women. BMJ. 2001;322(7302):1571. doi:10.1136/bmj.322.7302.1571

Barbosa-Cesnik C, Brown MB, Buxton M, Zhang L, DeBusscher J, Foxman B. Cranberry juice fails to prevent recurrent urinary tract infection: results from a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Clin Infect Dis. 2011;52(1):23-30. doi:10.1093/cid/ciq073

Wing DA, Rumney PJ, Preslicka CW, Chung JH. Daily cranberry juice for the prevention of asymptomatic bacteriuria in pregnancy: a randomized, controlled pilot study. J Urol. 2008;180(4):1367-1372. doi:10.1016/j.juro.2008.06.016

Stothers L. A randomized trial to evaluate effectiveness and cost effectiveness of naturopathic cranberry products as prophylaxis against urinary tract infection in women. Can J Urol. 2002;9(3):1558-1562.

Jepson RG, Craig JC. Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(1):CD001321. Published 2008 Jan 23. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001321.pub4

Gettman MT, Ogan K, Brinkley LJ, Adams-Huet B, Pak CY, Pearle MS. Effect of cranberry juice consumption on urinary stone risk factors. J Urol. 2005;174(2):590-801. doi:10.1097/01.ju.0000165168.68054.f8

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