If you suffer from frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs) then it's very likely that you’ve heard all about how cranberry juice can be beneficial for treating or preventing them. But is it really?

The research that has been done so far on this subject has given very conflicting results. In some studies, it was found to be effective, while others demonstrated no effect. One study, for example, consisting of 13 trials and 1616 participants and observed that those who consumed cranberry juice and pills had less UTI’s, whereas this other study observed no significant change. And there are many more examples of evidence both for and against the treatment.

So, what should you do? Should you use cranberry juice to help prevent a urinary tract infection?

What about treating it? Is cranberry juice effective in both the prevention and treatment of UTIs?

Cocktail beverage juice
Photographer: Jez Timms | Source: Unsplash

How Effective Is Cranberry Juice At Fighting and Preventing UTIs?

A urinary tract infection is an infection of the urinary system, which could include the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and/or urethra. The infection usually begins from the urethra and moves in the upward direction towards the kidneys. Mostly commonly UTI is caused by an organism called E.Coli, which has a special part called fimbriae that helps them easily attach to the urinary system, and establish an infection.

Cranberry is a native North American shrub that was the preferred fruit for the management of UTI by the Native Americans back when antibiotics did not exist. With research, it was found that proanthocyanidin (PAC), a component of cranberry, prevents the adherence of E.coli and other bacteria on the urinary tract. Without adherence, bacteria cannot cause infection.

There are some studies that do show cranberry to be effective, but with so much inconsistency in the results of many other studies, cranberry juice can only be considered as a supplement and not as a replacement of traditional medical management for UTI.

Cranberry Pills vs Cranberry Juice. Which is the Better Option?

Unsweetened cranberry juice is very astringent and some people cannot tolerate it as it can upset the stomach. For these people, pills and capsules will be the go-to.

Now the question arises: are pills and capsules superior to cranberry juice in preventing urinary tract infections? Turns out, no!

When compared to cranberry juice, pills are less efficient, according to this study involving 1616 subjects. Some studies even show no effect at all. This might be because cranberry pills are dietary supplements, and therefore don't need the approval of the FDA in order to reach the store-counters. This means that there is no standard dosage for these pills and capsules. This could possibly be one of the many reasons why some pills work and some don't. A quick search online shows a range of anywhere between 400-800mg per dose, and there is currently no recommended RDA dosage for cranberry. 

Should you consider cranberry juice for your UTI?

There's no harm in trying out unsweetened cranberry juice. It's a good source of antioxidants and will provide some great health benefits to you and is quite safe to use.

If you are going to use cranberry, trying it as a juice rather than pills or capsules would be superior. Ultimately, you want to go with your own experience. If it works for you, continue using it, and if not, then you can just enjoy the benefits of antioxidants.

There are no standard doses regarding its use, and it seems that every study used a different dosage. But you can safely drink 8 ounces of pure cranberry juice three times a day to get the maximum benefit.

Are All Cranberry Juices Effective Against UTI’s?

Pure cranberry juice is most likely the version Native Americans were using, so that's your best bet.

Even if you are deciding to use this juice for its other health benefits, going with the tart unsweetened pure version is the best option. Do not go for the cranberry cocktails as commercially produced versions are full of added sugars or artificial sweeteners.

In fact, sweetened cranberry juice may further worsen your UTI. Sweeteners like sodium saccharin, acesulfame K, and aspartame, are known to cause irritation to the bladder and worsen the symptoms of UTI.

Are There any Downsides of Drinking Cranberry Juice?

Very little research has been done when it comes to cranberry juice and its interaction with medications. However, some interactions have been reported with certain medications.

  • A high dose of cranberry juice, i.e 1-2L per day can possibly cause drug interaction with warfarin. The persistence of warfarin in your system for a longer time will make you prone to internal bleeding.
  • Cranberry was also noted to delay the absorption of certain antibiotics like amoxicillin and cefaclor. Though, at a moderate dose of cranberry, the reduced absorption was not observed.
  • Some in-vitro studies have shown it to interfere with nifedipine (an antihypertensive medication). Whether or not similar action will be seen in humans is not known yet as no studies have been done in humans to confirm this.
  • Several studies have suggested that cranberry supplements increase the risk of developing oxalate kidney stones.

What Other Natural Drinks Could Help With a UTI?

Drinking water does a lot more than just making your skin glow and keeping your attention level high. It also flushes out the toxins from our system.

More hydration means more trips to the toilet, which in turn means flushing out the bacteria from the bladder and urethra more frequently. When you don't pee for a long time that allows the bacteria to multiply undisturbed in your urinary system.

So, if you have a problem with frequent UTI, focus on staying hydrated. Drink at least 2-3 liters of water each day.

What Are The Other Health Benefits Of Cranberry Juice To Consider?

Cranberry juice may have conflicting results when it comes to UTIs, but it sure has some other amazing health benefits that will make you consider adding it to your routine.

  1. It is a good source of vitamins and minerals. Pure cranberry juice contains a healthy amount of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, E, and K. It is also rich in other electrolytes and minerals like potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. Not to mention, it keeps you hydrated. You can use it to supplement your daily dietary requirements.
  2. It's a rich source of antioxidants. Apart from having a good amount of vitamins A, C, E; all of which being antioxidants, they are also rich in polyphenols, which are another type of antioxidant. Antioxidants are responsible for neutralizing the free-radicals that cause inflammation in our bodies. They also may provide some protection against cancer, cognitive decline, atherosclerosis, and various other chronic conditions.
  3. It helps maintain good heart health by increasing the good cholesterol levels (HDL) and reducing the risk of atherosclerosis. It maintains the vascular health and lipid profile in postmenopausal women as well. Heart health is important, as heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US.
  4. It may even help you if you are currently under triple therapy for gastric ulcers. Studies have shown that pure cranberry juice helps in eradication of H. pylori, (a bacteria responsible for GI ulcers) when used with other medications for the treatment of gastric ulcers. It even maintains your digestive health by reducing intestinal inflammation.
  5. Cranberry juice also improves the lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) that are linked to BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia) in older men, suggesting that it might be a good idea for older men to add cranberry juice in their diet to avoid voiding issues.

Conclusion

Should you depend on cranberry juice to treat your urinary tract infection?

Probably not. The results so far are slightly positive at best, and more often than not, show no effect at all. It would appear a better course of action to help prevent and treat a UTI will be to maintain good hygiene, proper hydration, a good diet, and seek medical help whenever required.

With that said, this does not mean drinking pure cranberry juice every day is a bad idea. It has some pretty great health benefits, most notably that it is rich in antioxidants and packed with so many vitamins that will do your body good.