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H&W Column: Does Cranberry Juice Work Against UTIs?

Health & Wellness Column
Virginia Aparicio
Extension Educator – Health & Human Sciences
Purdue Extension Elkhart County

Does Cranberry Juice Work Against UTIs?

If you have ever had pain or burning when urinating, it may have been a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs account for over 6 million patient visits each year in the United States. For years, people have used cranberry juice to help with UTIs. But does it work? Can cranberries help treat or prevent UTIs?

The health claim comes from the belief that Native Americans used cranberries as treatment for bladder ailments. Scientists later discovered that cranberry juice could make urine more acidic. UTIs occur when bacteria get into the urine and travel up the bladder. It was believed that acidic urine could prevent the growth of bacteria including E. Coli - a common cause of UTIs.

Eventually, researchers learned that cranberries have a compound called proanthocyanidins that can reduce the incidence of certain infections. Proanthocyanidins prevent bacteria like E. coli from sticking to cell walls causing infections in the urinary tract.

At this time, most of the studies on cranberry juice or cranberry products for UTIs focus on prevention.  As to whether cranberry juice actually helps prevent UTIs, the science is mixed. In 2012, one large review of clinical studies found that there is not enough evidence to suggest cranberry products help with prevention. Another large study done in the same year disagreed.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says although unsweetened cranberry juice and cranberry pills may decrease the risk of getting a UTI, the exact amount of juice or pills needed and how long you need to take them is still being studied.

There is a lot of variation among studies and the types of cranberry products used for UTI prevention. Due to the inconsistency, it’s hard to determine what form of cranberry is best for preventing UTIs. It’s also important to note that the amount of active ingredient that each product contains can also vary. For example, researchers may use juice with a higher concentration of cranberry than what you might find in a typical cranberry juice cocktail.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “studies in people who are at increased risk for UTIs or those who have had recurrent UTIs show that cranberry products decrease the risk of UTIs by about one-third,” but they also claim that the results have been inconsistent and it isn’t an effective treatment for an existing UTI.

Based on the research, cranberries don’t seem to work for everyone as a preventative measure and they don’t treat already present UTIs. If you have a UTI, odds are it will need to be treated with antibiotics.

If you do want to try cranberry juice to prevent UTIs, drink pure, unsweetened cranberry juice (in moderation) rather than cranberry juice cocktail. Cranberry juice cocktail is often full of sugar and doesn't seem to prevent UTIs better than drinking any other fruit juice.

See your doctor for any UTI symptom that is severe or concerning. Your doctor can determine if a UTI, yeast infection, or another illness is causing your symptoms and determine the best treatment for you. ###

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