Cranberry Juice and Urinary Tract Infections
I get two or three recurring urinary tract infections every year. Doctors have no explanation for this (although some have blamed it on stress), and it’s a condition I’ve been dealing with since I was 19. Another constant throughout the years has been my remedy of choice: cranberry juice. At one point, I was even on cranberry extract supplements, taking two each day until I decided the cost for these capsules outweighed the benefit.
It seems today, however, that I might have been remiss in trying to treat my UTI with cranberry juice. This is because there is reasonable, but incomplete, basic science behind drinking the beverage for UTIs. E. coli, the most common cause of urinary tract infections, causes infection in the bladder by binding to the uroepithelial cells. To do this, they make fimbriae, proteinaceous fibers on the bacterial cell wall. Fimbriae are adhesions that attach to specific sugar based receptors on urinary tract cells. Think Velcro.
What, then, is the alleged mechanism by which cranberry juice is beneficial in preventing urinary traction infections? Cranberry juice, and some other fruits, contains proanthocyanidins. Reasonable data demonstrates that proanthocyanidins block adherence of some E. coli, but not all, to cells in the urinary tract. Thus, the theory is that, by taking cranberry juice, or even cranberry pills, you can block the E. coli from sticking to bladder cells and hence decrease the number of UTI.
How Helpful Is Cranberry Juice?
However, results from a review of 24 studies that included nearly 5,000 people suggest cranberry juice may only be helpful in a select few women. Those with recurrent UTI are the most likely to benefit from cranberry juice, but reasonably healthy women would need to drink at least two glasses of cranberry juice each day over a long period of time to prevent an infection, researchers from the UK said.
Yet past research has shown more positive results. In 2012, a Taiwanese review of 13 studies concluded UTIs were 38 percent rarer among people who consume cranberry products. This suggests more studies of other cranberry products, including tablets and capsules, could be justified, especially for women with recurrent UTI. One important note is that these products must contain the recommended amount of active ingredient.
From a personal perspective, I can honestly say drinking cranberry juice during a UTI has helped me. On a number of occasions, I’ve completely flushed my system, and the infection, by drinking nothing more than water and cranberry juice for several days. For me, drinking straight cranberry juice rather than cranberry cocktails helps much more. The taste is tart, but this beverage’s sugar content is much lower than its cocktail counterparts.
Even if you’re not one of those who can prevent or treat urinary tract infections with cranberry juice, the fruit itself tops the charts in terms of antioxidant levels. And this can mean viable health benefits for those who indulge in a glass or two each day. This is because research confirms antioxidants can reduce damage from free radicals. Antioxidants found in cranberry juice may prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol, relaxing blood vessels, and stopping plaque buildup in arteries. So feel free to drink cranberry juice (watch the variety you choose) and enjoy a healthier you.