By Alice G. Walton
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are some of the most common types of infection, accounting for over eight million doctor’s office visits every year, according to the NIH. About 100,000 of these results in hospitalization. Because of their anatomy, women are more likely than men to experience a UTI, and about half of all women will have one in their lifetime. Anyone who’s had a urinary tract infection can tell you how painful they can be, how difficult to treat, and that they can recur in people who are prone to them.
Cranberries have long been used as a folk remedy for UTIs, though the medical community has not routinely recommended the fruit or its extract as treatment or prevention for the infections, since evidence for its effectiveness has been mixed. But new research looking back over older studies suggests that cranberry products might just be a viable option at least for prevention of UTIs, particularly in certain groups of people. Treating the infections with common antibiotics has been thought to play a big role in the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, so having an effective way to reduce one’s risk in the first place is an especially exciting prospect.
The new study analyzed data from about 1,500 people taking part in 10 different studies. People who regularly consumed cranberry products (juice and supplements) had a significantly reduced risk of developing UTIs. Some groups, like women and children, people who took supplements at least twice a day, and cranberry juice drinkers, were the most protected.
The authors did find that the effect was greater in studies that did not administer a placebo as a control, which suggests that the power of suggestion may be at play at least in part. They also suggest that the larger effect that cranberry juice had on preventing UTIs may be in part because it hydrates a person more. On the other hand, people taking supplements at least twice a day enjoyed a similarly reduced risk of infection, which suggests that there really is something about cranberry itself that has a protective effect.
In fact, earlier studies have shown that cranberry has an “anti-adhesion” effect on E. coli in the bladder – in other words, it makes the bacteria “stick” less well to the lining of the bladder, which may also make it less likely to lead to a full-blown infection.
Studies are currently underway to determine the optimal dosing of cranberry products for UTI prevention.
The authors do caution that drinking a lot of cranberry juice may have its downside, given the amount of sugar that is often added to the juice. Still, drinking low-sugar cranberry juice or taking supplements (always check with your doctor first), is probably not a bad way to cut down on your risk for UTIs, particularly if you are prone to them.
The research was carried out by researchers at the National Taiwan University Hospital and National Taiwan University College of Medicine; it was published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
August 6, 2012