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The Truth About Cranberry and Urinary Tract Infections

October 24, 2016 | Mary South, MD, MHA

For women who suffer from recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs), prevention is as important as treatment. However, not everyone wants to take antibiotics and many women turn to cranberry juice or cranberry tablets as a way to prevent infections.

Almost every time without fail, women with recurrent UTIs say to me, “Well, I drink cranberry juice all the time,” but they laugh it off and roll their eyes like they’re embarrassed…as if I would make fun of them for trying a natural solution!

Our mothers always told us that drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry tablets helped get rid of UTIs, but is it really true?

Scientific evidence actually does support the theory that cranberry extract (or the far less natural sounding name “proanthocyanidin-A ~ PAC-A”) helps decrease the rate of urinary tract infections. Just last month, a randomized controlled trial published in International Urology and Nephrology showed that cranberry extract decreased the ability of bacteria to grow and “stick” to the lining of the urinary tract, decreased the urine pH, and decreased the rate of UTI in a group of 72 patients (Singh, Gautam, & Kaur, 2016).

So cranberry tablets might work, but what about cranberry juice? I used to tell my patients the amount of cranberry extract they would get from drinking juice would never be enough to prevent UTI, that they would need to drink a gallon of juice a day to make a difference, but recent studies show otherwise! According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “the consumption of a cranberry juice beverage lowered the number of clinical UTI episodes in women with a recent history of UTI” (Maki et al., 2016). Women in the treatment group in this study drank 8 ounces of Ocean Spray® cranberry juice daily.

Bottom line: Drinking just eight ounces of cranberry juice per day could decrease the incidence of UTIs by more than 40%; however, it’s important to consider calorie intake since many cranberry juices are sweetened. Taking cranberry tablets up to four times a day will likely have similar or even better results with fewer calories.

Although it’s unlikely that cranberry juice and extract is harmful in these quantities, some patients may be sensitive to the acidity of cranberry juice, which can lead to bladder urgency, frequency, and pain (reminiscent of UTI symptoms). Either way, try it out and see if it works for you!

Other options to help prevent UTI include adding vitamin C, D-mannose, and methenamine-rich products like Urogesic BlueTM, UribelTM, or over-the-counter AZO Urinary Tract DefenseTM to your daily routine.

Read more about the prevention and treatment of UTIs.

Maki, K. C., Kaspar, K. L., Khoo, C., Derrig, L. H., Schild, A. L., & Gupta, K. (2016). Consumption of a cranberry juice beverage lowered the number of clinical urinary tract infection episodes in women with a recent history of urinary tract infection. Am J Clin Nutr, 103(6), 1434-1442. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.130542

Singh, I., Gautam, L. K., & Kaur, I. R. (2016). Effect of oral cranberry extract (standardized proanthocyanidin-A) in patients with recurrent UTI by pathogenic E. coli: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical research study. Int Urol Nephrol, 48(9), 1379-1386. doi: 10.1007/s11255-016-1342-8

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