What Science Says About Cranberry Supplements For Urinary Tract Health
If you have ever had a urinary tract infection before, you have probably received this all-too-common piece of advice: drink cranberry juice. And when you are in the midst of the burning pain of a UTI, you would probably try just about anything.
But let’s ask the important question: Does it actually work? What do cranberries have to do with your urinary tract health? I’m going to answer all of those questions as we take a closer look at cranberry juice and cranberry supplements.
You will quickly see whether or not cranberries are truly a viable option for dealing with those terrible urinary tract infections.
Wondering where the idea of drinking cranberry juice for UTIs came from?
Originally, the concept had to do with acid. Most UTIs are caused when the E. coli bacteria somehow enters the urinary tract.
Researchers believed acidic urine (thanks to all that cranberry!) was not a great place for E. coli to hang out.
Then the theory adjusted. You see, the problem with E. coli is that it can essentially “stick” to the bladder walls just enough that your urine cannot flush it out. Then it turns into an infection. Some people believe that cranberries lessen this bacterial “sticky” effect, perhaps by creating a coating around the urinary tract walls that make the area too slippery.
This substance in cranberries that is thought to have a role in this slippery/sticky situation is called A-type proanthocyanidins (or PACs).
But do either of these theories work?
What Does Science Say?
First of all, it is important to realize that there is no solid evidence that cranberries can treat a current urinary tract infection.
So when people tell you to chug cranberry juice to help the UTI you have right now, ignore that advice. (But make sure you are chugging water!).
The question then becomes: can cranberries prevent UTIs? After all, with the frequency of recurrent UTIs in women and the extremely difficult situation of antibiotic resistance in these recurrent UTIs, many women are eager to stop them from popping up just as much as they are to treat them when they happen.
The answer is not entirely cut and dried – which brings us to our first two studies.
Study #1: Over 300 college-aged women were suffering with an acute UTI. Some were given 8 ounces of cranberry juice twice daily. Others were not. Those with the cranberry juice actually showed a slightly higher recurrence rate (20% got another UTI) and there were no differences in urinary symptoms.
Study #2: 147 women in nursing homes were either given 2 oral cranberry capsules once a day or placebo bills. The cranberry pills made no difference in the:
- Number of symptomatic UTIs
- Rates of death
- Bacteriuria associated with multidrug-resistant gram-negative bacilli antibiotics administered for suspected UTIs total antimicrobial utilization
The study finally concluded: “Among older women residing in nursing homes, administration of cranberry capsules vs. placebo resulted in no significant difference in presence of bacteriuria plus pyuria over 1 year.”
As you can see, this study shows no link between cranberry and preventing urinary tract infections at all. Essentially, both cranberry juice and cranberry pills were both ineffective at preventing recurrent UTIs.
You can see why researchers, doctors, and practitioners are moving away from cranberry as a top UTI treatment. But to be fair, let’s look at one more:
Study #3: 160 female patients (between 23 and 88 years old) underwent an elective gynecological surgery. Many times, surgeries like this will lead to a UTI once the catheter is removed. The researchers gave half of the patients to cranberry pills two times daily for 6 weeks after their surgery. The other half of the patients received a placebo pill.
- For those who received the cranberry pill, 19% ended up with a urinary tract infection
- For those who received the placebo pill, 35% ended up with a urinary tract infection
This one successful study brings us to a really important concept to understand…
Cranberry Juice vs. Cranberry Supplements
We have already seen that the evidence for cranberry as a great UTI preventer is slim. But the study that does show some success did not get its results by chugging cranberry juice. It was a pill with cranberry extract.
Even if we could come to the conclusion that the compounds of a cranberry really could keep you from UTI pain … it is essentially impossible to connect cranberry juice to any sort of help in this area.
- There simply is not enough of all the good health benefits of cranberry in cranberry juice
- There is often extremely high amounts of sugar in cranberry juice as well – not good for fighting off infections
So if you are desperate for UTI and feel you want to give cranberry a try, skip right on over the juice and try the pill form.
To Take Cranberry Or Not To Take Cranberry: Is It Even A Question?
Here is a video to wrap up everything we’ve talked about today and it will start to answer the big question: So should a UTI sufferer take cranberry?
As WebMD put it, “The research on this isn’t totally clear…Cranberries don’t seem to work for everyone. And they don’t treat UTIs that you already have.” This is a maybe/maybe not sort of answer.
In her November 2016 editorial, Dr. Lindsay E. Nicolle took a firmer stance and officially said it is “time to move on” from using cranberry to prevent UTIs.
But what exactly do we move on to?
What you should remember is that there are great, natural UTI supplements that do have the backing of science. Antibiotics are not your only choice for relief. D-mannose and Hibiscus Extract, for example, both have plenty of research backing up their effectiveness in fighting against UTIs.
Cranberry juice probably won’t do anything but give you a sugar high. Cranberry supplements may not help either.
However, if you are desperate and don’t mind taking an extra supplement it could be a “why not?” sort of choice. Choose a supplement high in PACs without any fillers. Also remember that just because cranberries may not be your miracle UTI cure, they are good for you and high in antioxidants. Cooking with them can be an overall health booster.