Cranberry Juice and Urinary Tract Infections – a Myth?

cranberry juice

Many women swear by cranberries as a home remedy for bladder and urinary tract issues. But, researchers also swear (and claim to have shown) that it is a myth that cranberry juice or other foods containing the berries can prevent or treat urinary tract infections (UTIs). What is the answer?

Products with cranberries in them, from the perpetual Ocean Spray sauce cans to Thomas’ English Muffins, are prominent in stores this time of year. Many people only eat or drink things with cranberries in them around Thanksgiving. Conversely, many women for years have regularly sought out and relied on cranberries in juice, foods, or capsules to thwart bladder problems.

The berries can be more than a holiday dietary element. But, a new study in the “Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)” suggests that they are ineffective on UTIs. However, the sample population may not be representative.

For the study just published in “JAMA,” the researchers from Yale University randomly assigned 185 women to two groups. One set consumed daily two capsules which contained cranberry extracts that were the equivalent of 20 ounces of cranberry juice. The other group downed placebo capsules. The women took the capsules for one year. During the time, there was no significant difference in the UTI rates for those receiving the capsules with cranberry extracts versus those taking the placebos, according to the researchers.

A huge problem with the study is that all of the participants are seniors living in nursing homes near Yale. The average age was reportedly 86.

While UTIs are the most commonly diagnosed infection for women in nursing homes, does the study conclusively show the cranberry juice treatment is a myth? Furthermore, would the results be the same if the study was conducted in student housing at Yale?

Actually, there have been other studies, including one among 319 college women published by the University of Michigan School of Public Health. That study, published in “Clinical Infectious Diseases” over five years ago, found a similar result. Conversely, there have been some studies that showed some evidence that cranberry juice or capsules may help some. Generally, the research has produced mixed results.

Drink the Juice or Not

The belief that eating or drinking cranberry products can prevent or treat urinary was based on the fact they increase the acidity of urine. The speculation was that chemicals in cranberries (proanthocyanidins) prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.

The advent of antibiotics eliminated the need for old wives’ tales and herbal treatments. But, the overuse of antibiotics has made people reluctant to go the prescription route. So, should people try the cranberry products and juice route, or not?

Many experts believe that cranberry products should not be recommended for prevention of UTIs. That said, someone could try cranberry juice or capsules as a personal choice or first recourse. The top recommendation on medical Websites is to keep hydrated to flush out the system and prevent UTIs. While water is great, there is no serious downside in drinking cranberry juice to prevent UTIs, whether a myth or not, given the inconclusive research.

Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss

Sources:
JAMA: Effect of Cranberry Capsules on Bacteriuria Plus Pyuria Among Older Women in Nursing Homes
HealthDay: Cranberry Products May Not Prevent UTIs: Study
JAMA: Cranberry for Prevention of Urinary Tract Infection? Time to Move On
Cleveland Clinic: Can Cranberry Juice Stop Your UTI?
PubMed.gov: Cranberry juice fails to prevent recurrent urinary tract infection: results from a randomized placebo-controlled trial.
Daily Mail: It’s NOT an old wives’ tale: Cranberry juice really does prevent bladder infections

Photo by Lisa Pinehill from Osaka, Japan – Creative Commons license

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