Drinking cranberry juice has long been a mythical prevention strategy for women who develop a urinary tract infection. Finally, new medical evidence shows consuming cranberry products is indeed an effective way to prevent a UTI before it gets started.
A global study looking at the benefits of cranberry products published in Cochrane Reviews has determined cranberry juice, and its supplements, reduce the risk of repeat symptomatic UTIs in women by more than a quarter, in children by more than half, and in people susceptible to UTI following medical interventions by about 53%.
Cranberry juice and healthcare supplements that commonly include the fruit, such as capsules and tablets, have long been promoted as a readily available solution to ward off the infection but the most recent review in 2012, with evidence from 24 trials, showed no benefit from the products.
The medical scientists behind this updated review from Flinders University and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead aimed to update these findings, as an important step in determining the effectiveness of cranberry products by looking at 50 more recent trials that included almost 9 000 participants.
“This incredible result didn’t really surprise us, as we’re taught that when there’s more and better evidence, the truth will ultimately come out. UTIs are horrible and very common; about a third of women will experience one, as will many elderly people and also people with bladder issues from spinal cord injury or other conditions,” said the study lead author Dr Gabrielle Williams.
Flinders University epidemiologist Dr Jacqueline Stephens, a co-author of the study, said if the UTI persists untreated it can move to the kidneys and cause pain and more complications, including sepsis in very severe cases, so prevention is the most effective way to reduce risks.
“Most UTIs are effectively, and pretty quickly, treated with antibiotics, sometimes as little as one dose can cure the problem. Unfortunately, in some people UTIs keep coming back. Without being sure if or how it works, some healthcare providers began suggesting it to their patients. It was a harmless, easy option at the time. Even centuries ago, Native Americans reportedly ate cranberries for bladder problems, leading somewhat more recently, to laboratory scientists exploring what it was in cranberries that helped and how it might work.”
“The studies we looked at included a range of methods to determine the benefits of cranberry products. The vast majority compared cranberry products with a placebo or no treatment for UTI and determined drinking cranberries as a juice or taking capsules reduced the number of UTIs in women with recurrent cases, in children and in people susceptible to UTI’s following medical interventions such as bladder radiotherapy.”
“It’s also important to consider that few people reported any side effects with the most common being tummy pain based on the results. We also did not find enough information to determine if cranberry products are more or less effective compared with antibiotics or probiotics in preventing further UTIs.”
The study authors concluded that while cranberry products do help prevent UTIs in women with frequent recurrence, more studies are needed to further clarify who with UTI would benefit most from cranberry products.