Any woman who has ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI) will tell you its pure misery. The burning, stinging and constant need to pee is just about as annoying as it gets.
One of the more well-known “cures” and a go-to folk medicine for this condition has been the use of drinking cranberry juice.
Many people at the first sign of something different going on down there will begin chugging away glass after glass of this ruby red elixir supposedly meant to flush out the infection of a UTI. But does it really work?
First, what is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection can occur in any part of the urinary tract beginning with the kidneys. The bean-shaped organs filter waste products the body doesn’t need from the blood which creates urine.
Urine than flows through tubes called the ureters to the bladder, which stores urine until it is ready to be eliminated from the body. When the urine exits the bladder, it will flow through the urethra on out of the body as waste.
Urinary tract infections are a key reason why women are told to wipe from front to back after using the bathroom and why they are much more common in women than men.
Over 50% of women will have at least one UTI in her lifetime, with up to 30% to 40% of UTIs recurring within six months after the initial episode.
In women, the urethra — the tube that transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body — is located close to the anus. Bacteria from the large intestine, such as E. coli, are in the perfect position to escape the anus and invade the urethra. From there, they can travel up to the bladder, and if the infection isn’t treated, continue on to infect the kidneys.
Women may be especially prone to UTIs because they have shorter urethras, which allow bacteria quick access to the bladder. Having sex can also introduce bacteria into the urinary tract.
What’s the connection between cranberry juice and UTIs?
Drinking cranberry juice has often been the solution for preventing and treating a UTI and for some, it may be an effective means of doing just that.
What makes cranberry juice so special in possibly treating and preventing UTIs? Studies have suggested that cranberry juice interferes with the attachment of bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract due to compounds found in cranberries called proanthocyadins.
Cranberry consumption also appears to produce anti-inflammatory effects by reducing the proposition of asymptomatic bacteria progressing into symptomatic UTIs. The anti-inflammatory activity has the potential to prevent the development of symptoms and to reduce the severity of a UTI incident as well as preventing it from turning into a chronic infection.
But there has always been some controversy regarding whether cranberry juice consumption actually reduces the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women or not. Part of the hesitation was due to lack of sufficient statistical power to provide definitive results from randomized clinical trials in the past.
One study from 2016 and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the effects of consuming cranberry juice with that of a placebo beverage on the incidence of UTIs in healthy women with a recent history of a UTI.
The research design was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter clinical trial involving 373 women (average age 41) at 18 research centers with a history of recent UTIs.
The women were randomly assigned to consume either a daily glass of cranberry juice or a placebo for 24 weeks. There was a 98% compliance rate with 86% of the participants who completed the study.
Results of the study showed a 40% reduction of UTIs among women assigned to drinking cranberry juice compared to women assigned to drinking a placebo beverage.
So, does it really work?
Cranberry juice may not necessarily cure the UTI but at the same time, it does appear to have at least some benefit and it is a beverage that is very good for people anyway.
It is low in calories, high in antioxidants and nutrients, and has a ton of vitamin C meaning it helps boost the immune system. On top of that, cranberries and its juice may help prevent heart disease and slow tumor growth.
Besides, there is no harm in drinking the juice as it will at least encourage consumption of more fluids, keeping one hydrated, and can help contribute to flushing out the infection as it causes increase in urination.
To reiterate, urinary tract infections are common and can be hard to treat due to rising rates of antibiotic resistance. Around 60% of all women will experience at least one UTI in their lifetime.
Treating a UTI can be costly as they are responsible for around 10.5 million visits to the doctor’s office and emergency room visits in the U.S. and the costs associated with antibiotic therapy, visits to health care providers, lab testing and lost productivity.
It is estimated that 25-35% of women diagnosed with a UTI will have another recurrence within six months.
Women can consume cranberry juice along with plenty of water while practicing other self-help treatments of preventing UTIs that together can significantly reduce the risk of developing a UTI to begin with.
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, SamadiMD.com, davidsamadiwiki, davidsamadibio and Facebook.
For more DAILY VIEWS, The News’ contributor network, click here.