Urinary Tract Infections and Cranberry Juice
Does cranberry juice really make a difference?
We often hear that drinking cranberry juice or taking high strength cranberry products will help support urinary tract health but how true is this and what does the latest nutritional research suggest?
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are pretty common. In fact, around one in 2 women and one in 20 men will get a UTI in their lifetime. UTIs are caused by germs, usually bacteria. UTI symptoms include:
- wanting to urinate more often and urgently
- burning pain or sensation when urinating
- a feeling that the bladder is still full after urinating
- pain above the pubic bone
- cloudy, bloody or very smelly urine
Who’s at risk?
- women – sexually active women are at increased risk as the urethra is four centimeters long - providing a short distance for bacteria to travel from the outside to the inside of the bladder
- people with urinary catheters
- people with diabetes
- men with prostate problems – such as an enlarged prostate gland that can cause the bladder to only partially empty
- babies & children– especially those born with physical problems (congenital abnormalities) of the urinary system
To cut a long story short, taking oral cranberry products (juice or supplements) may help decrease the risk of recurrent, uncomplicated UTIs among generally healthy non-pregnant women. In saying this, as there is such a wide variety of types of cranberry products and doses, it is impossible to set a recommended dose or product form that is optimal for decreasing UTI risk.
Interestingly, research suggests that there is no evidence to support that taking cranberry is of any help once a UTI has already developed. Unfortunately, when it comes to decreasing the risk of complicated UTIs among those most vulnerable, the research is quite inconsistent.
Here’s a summary:
- The overall benefit of cranberry for UTI prevention is mostly lacking among pregnant women, elder or older adults and those with neurogenic/neuropathic bladder. BUT…
- There was some evidence of some decreased risk among children and adolescents and those undergoing pelvic radiation therapy.
- For those keen to try cranberry for UTI prevention it is important to note that a benefit has not always been seen (there is some inconsistency in research trials)
Cranberries are high in antioxidants, specifically Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Quercetin which help protect against free radical damage. When it comes to UTIs and cranberries, cranberries possess anti-adhesion qualities, which help reduce the adhesion of bacteria to the urinary tract.
As with any juice these days, if you do want to try cranberry juice for UTI prevention, be sure to read the packaging and ingredients list. Ideally, you want to go for a cranberry juice without added sugars and something made with “100 percent real juice.” Look for natural sweeteners on the ingredients list, like apple or grape juice.
Some cranberry supplements are now using the whole fruit of the cranberry fruit, which is known to help further support urinary tract health. By using the whole fruit, this also increases polyphenols and fibre intake. Win win?!
- The calorie, sugar and potassium content of cranberry juice is an important consideration for some people, depending on health goals and medical conditions
- As always, the financial cost of supplements & juice is another consideration when considering the risk benefit ratio of trying cranberry for UTI prevention
- Some people find cranberry juice to cause or worsen reflux
- Some supplements are using the whole fruit of the cranberry – this might be a good thing to consider if you’re at the chemist trying to decide between brands/products
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