Among all the myths and controversies about how we can prevent and treat UTIs, there is a debate on whether or not cranberry juice can help or prevent UTIs. For most recurrent UTIs, the most common treatment is antibiotics, but this poses a risk for the emergence of bacterial resistance. There have been multiple studies and research done on this debate that generally conclude that there is an ingredient in cranberries that can prevent adherence of bacteria to the bladder wall, but most cranberry juices and supplements do not have enough of this ingredient. The active ingredient that can potentially prevent UTIs is called proanthocyanidin, or PAC. Escherichia coli (E. coli) account for most cases of UTIs.
One important property of E. coli is its adherence to the host tissue. The common hypothesis is that cranberries work principally by preventing the adhesion of certain strains from E. coli to the urothelium, which lines the urinary tract.(1) Without adhesion, the bacteria cannot infect this mucosal surface.
An article by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, citing multiple studies done on cranberry’s effectiveness, observed a general reduction in the likelihood of UTIs for all patients receiving cranberry products; however, recommended doses of cranberry products for the UTI prevention have been poorly defined, and beverage formulations vary widely.(2)
Multiple studies over the years have found that grocery store cranberry juice generally does not have enough of the active ingredient to be effective in preventing bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall. Basically, people would need to consume a lot of pure cranberry in order to prevent an infection.
Everyone also reacts differently to the supplements and juice because of cost, taste, and gastrointestinal intolerance. Cranberry juice from the grocery store won’t be able to treat a UTI, but it won’t hurt. Cranberry juice offers hydration and possibly washes bacteria from the body more effectively, but the active ingredient will be long gone by the time it reaches the urethral region.
Researchers recommend that future studies should focus on PAC, the active compound in cranberries, instead of the whole fruit. Until more concrete research on this ingredient has been done, consuming cranberries won’t hurt, and probiotics can always be used as a safe natural option for the prevention of UTIs. You can learn more about this in our article on how probiotics help prevent and treat UTIs.
*Reviewed and approved by Dr. Rob Lapporte
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Hisano, M., Bruschini, H., Nicodemo, A. C., & Srougi, M. (2012). Cranberries and lower urinary tract infection prevention. Clinics (Sao Paulo, Brazil), 67(6), 661–668. doi:10.6061/clinics/2012(06)18
Hisano, M., Bruschini, H., Nicodemo, A. C., & Srougi, M.