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Cranberries and UTI Prevention

I can claim that one of the most frustrating things about being a woman is the increased risk of contracting urinary tract infections (UTIs). They are more prevalent in women due to the plain fact that their urethras (urine ducts) are shorter and closer to the rectum, making it easier for bacteria to enter the urinary tract. Women have a 50% risk of contracting a UTI in their lifetime and a 20-30% risk of experiencing recurrent UTIs.

Treatment includes antibiotics, depending on the types of bacteria responsible for the infection. As much as 80% of UTIs are caused by E. Coli, but other strains, such as Staphylococcus saprophyticus and Klebsiella pneumoniae, can wreak havoc as well. While antibiotics do its job at removing the nefarious bacteria from the area, infection can arise again, sometimes sooner rather than later. Frequent antibiotic usage not only harms our good bacteria, but can also create an antibiotic-resistant environment in our bodies, creating more problems and making it harder to eradicate UTIs. Consumers and researchers alike try to find antibiotic-free products that can help prevent these annoying infections in the first place. Research and folklore both claim cranberries may be the panacea we have all been looking for!

Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PCAs), which inhibit E.Coli bacteria from adhering to the urothelial cells that line the bladder. A systematic review of 50 studies conducted by Williams et al. (2023) concluded that ingesting cranberries in juice, tablet, or capsule form reduced the number of UTIs in women with recurrent UTIs, in children with UTIs and in those susceptible to UTIs following interventions such as bladder radiotherapy. However, UTIs did not appear to be reduced in the institutionalized elderly (for both men and women), pregnant women or those with neuromuscular bladder dysfunction or incomplete bladder emptying. Another study which was both a systematic review and meta-analysis done by Fu et al. (2017) concluded that cranberry supplementation reduced the risk of UTIs by 26%.

In 2019, the American Urological Association put out a recommendation to use cranberry products as an antibiotic-free way to prevent recurrent UTIs. Recent FDA claims on the use of cranberry products are as follows:

 

Cranberry Juice Beverages

“Consuming one serving (8 oz) each day of a cranberry juice beverage may help reduce the risk of recurrent urinary tract infection (UTI) in healthy women, but the FDA has concluded that the scientific evidence supporting this claim is limited and inconsistent.”

 

Cranberry Dietary Supplements

“Consuming 500 mg each day of cranberry dietary supplement may help reduce the risk of recurrent urinary tract infection (UTI) in healthy women; however, the FDA has concluded that there is limited scientific evidence supporting this claim.”

This claims should be taken with caution, as cranberry juice should not be ingested without limit because it contains loads of sugar and may therefore do more harm than good. Consumers should look for cranberry juice with at least 27% cranberry content for the potential beneficial effect on urinary tract health. But before taking a cranberry supplement, speak with your medical provider for any other possible medical contraindications. However, at the end of the day, it’s important to do our due diligence to take care of our bodies for optimal health and wellness!


Melissa Papir is a registered dietitian working in long-term care nutrition in Washington Heights, New York. She works with middle-aged and elderly residents to provide nutrition that can help boost their quality of life. She loves to write about nutrition in her spare time. Melissa can be reached at [email protected].

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