December 16, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Urinary Tract Infections & Cranberry Juice

I was just told to drink cranberry juice to help treat a UTI.

The nurse said the juice's acidity [would help].

This confused me because I thought that food from the stomach is neutralized by a base before getting digested in the small intestine, so it wouldn't matter how acidic foods are to begin with.

So, is there any reason to drink cranberry juice for a UTI?

I'm cautious because all of the juice brands I've seen at stores have a lot of sugar, and drinking cranberry juice needlessly seems like a way to ingest a lot of empty calories.

-- Christine (last name unknown)

Via the blog

Lots to cover here.

Does cranberry juice play a role in preventing and treating urinary tract infections? Yes, but it has nothing to do with the fruit's acidity.

Cranberries -- and blueberries, for that matter -- contain an antioxidant known as proanthocyanidin.

This just so happens to also be the flavonoid that gives these two berries their unique pigments.

Several studies (mostly conducted over the past five years) have concluded that this phytochemical inhibits certain bacteria from adhering to the cell membranes of the cells lining the walls of the bladder.

By not being able to stick to these cells, bacteria have no chance to claim land, play house, and set off an infection.

The majority of the research on these components in cranberries and their relationship to urinary tract infections has mainly focused on prevention.

This is not to say, however, you are wasting your time by using cranberry juice in your treatment.

In fact, cranberries' anti-adherent properties against pesky bacteria can be a great complement to the 8 to 10 eight-ounce glasses of water you should be drinking every day day to help flush out said organisms.

The key, though, is to drink PURE cranberry juice -- usually found at select health food stores.

This means cranberry "juice drinks," "cranberry-based fruit cocktails," "cranberry energy water" will not be of much help.

Since that can be quite bitter medicine to swallow (despite there being no official dosage, most recommendations call for anywhere from 8 to 16 ounces per day), you may opt for concentrated cranberry extract pills (which have been used in several clinical trials.)

Then again, since no government agency regulates supplements, you always run the risk of buying an extract pill that, for all you know, offers a tenth of the dosage it claims on its label.


Julie said...

Hi Andy,

I really like your blog and think you give some really good information and advice.

This post is particularly timely. My elderley dad has (amongst a whole myriad of other problems) diverticulitis which has resulted in him having a bowel/bladder fistula. This means he is very prone to water infections which can be and have been life threatening. He has recently had burning urine and the nurses looking after him have given him cranberry juice. This is, of course the standard type full of sugar (he's also a diabetic and on constant antibiotics so therefore prone to yeast problems).

The cranberry juice did seen to help him and although I didn't want to interfere I was very doubtful about the benefits of standard supermarket sugared cranberry juice.

Thanks for the information, it may be worth him sticking with the juice as an ongoing preventative but I'll get him some without the added sugar.

Andy Bellatti said...


If he is being given cranberry juice with added sugar (as opposed to, say, a juice drink consisting of cranberry, grape, and apple), it will help some.

While better than nothing, it would be best if you can track down pure cranberry juice.

If the taste is too strong for him, you could dilute it with water or flavored seltzer (which does not have any sweeteners).

mitzi said...

I contracted UTIs twice in two years at the onset of hot weather after moving to a new city. This summer I beat them by mixing my morning glass of juice, half unsweetened 100% OJ, half 100% cranberry juice. You get used to it. By midsummer I could slug the stuff down straight, if I had to do so. And I had no infections! Works great. It cost roughly $1 a day, but compared to the infection, the loss of work time, the doctor visits, and the meds, it was well worth the cost. It was available at a large chain supermarket, in the "organic" section.