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Cranberry juice and UTIs

Kolasa, Kathy

Kathy Kolasa


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Q I keep getting mixed messages about using cranberry juice to prevent and treat my UTIs. What is the real story? — JCL, Greenville

A: I hope everyone had a healthy and happy Christmas day. Most of us enjoy a bit of cranberry during the holiday season, but some find it helpful to have a bit of juice every day. Here is what Lauren Blackmon, a senior ECU dietetic student wants you to know. We thank ECU Family Medicine faculty Dr. Janice Daugherty for helping us sort out the messages.

Some people believe cranberry juice to be a remedy for urinary tract infections or UTIs. Whether or not it really works depends on various factors. First let’s discuss what a UTI is. A urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria enters the urinary tract. In most cases bacteria enter through the urethra or tube from bladder to outside and travel up the urinary tract, infecting the bladder. In more severe cases, the infection can migrate to the kidneys and cause serious problems.

UTIs are most common in women due to the short distance from the urethra to the bladder. Men also are susceptible, but their risk is much lower because of a longer distance from the urethra to the bladder. One out of six women will experience a UTI at some point in her life. UTIs can often be easily treated with antibiotics.

Unfortunately, 20 percent to 30 percent of women will experience multiple UTIs per year, known as recurrent UTIs. Recurrent UTIs may be challenging to treat with antibiotics due to bacterial resistance. However, there are several preventative measures that can be taken to avoid urinary tract infections. Cranberry juice is known to be one of the most popular remedies to prevent UTIs.

Research about whether cranberry juice is helpful in preventing UTIs has shown conflicting results but in some cases has proven to be beneficial. The beneficial properties are thought to be due to an active component of cranberries called proanthocyanidins (PACs) and to metabolic products of healthy colon bacteria. PACs prevent some bacterial strains from attaching to the inner lining of the urinary tract. If the bacteria cannot attach to the cells, they cannot multiply and cause infection.

Several studies have concluded that cranberry juice may decrease the number of UTIs over a 12-month period in individuals with recurrent UTIs; other research has not shown positive results. While the chemical composition of cranberries seems promising in preventing uncomplicated UTIs in otherwise healthy women, research still needs to be done to determine the amount and form of cranberry that is most beneficial.

While cranberry juice cannot be strongly recommended as a preventative for UTIs, cranberries always are good to add to your diet as they contain a fair source of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, manganese, copper and several antioxidants. Because of their vitamin and proanthocyanidins content, they may be beneficial in reducing the risk of developing a UTI. It is important to note that cranberry juice does not kill bacteria and therefore will not treat urinary tract infections. If you suspect you have a UTI it is important to consult your doctor.

Most uncomplicated lower UTIs in women can be easily treated with an antibiotic. It is important not to rely on remedies such as cranberry juice when a UTI is already present. Untreated UTIs can potentially spread to the kidneys and cause severe complications that can be life threatening. If you do choose to use cranberry juice to reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs, choose a product with more cranberry juice and less added sugar. The calories for cranberry juice cocktail vary from 110-137 calories with most of them coming from sugars. Generally, an 8-ounce glass has about 11 grams of ADDED sugar. Juice cocktail is only about 30 percent pure cranberry juice. One hundred percent cranberry juice would be quite tart. Mixing cranberry juice with water and added a small amount of a sweetener like stevia or monk fruit may be a good solution.

Also remember that unless your doctor has told you to restrict your fluid intake, for urinary tract health it is good to drink 2.5 – 3 quarts of water a day. Low urine volume increases your risk of both UIs and kidney stones.


Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and Ph.D., is an Affiliate Professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.


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