Does Cranberry Juice Actually Help UTIs?

The red beverage has long been promoted as a UTI elixir, but it's time to settle it once and for all: Is cranberry juice good for UTIs, really?

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Along with family heirlooms and secret recipes, your family likely passes down some outlandish health hacks from generation to generation. As a kid, your mom might have told you that drinking water upside down can stop your hiccups, or your grandma may have mentioned that chicken noodle soup can cure a cold overnight. When you grew into a teen, you may have even heard that drinking cranberry juice can help with UTIs.

Considering at least 60 percent of people with vaginas will develop a UTI at some point in their lives, this trick is sure to come in handy even if you're lucky enough to have avoided one so far.But is it legit — or just another old wives' tale?

Here's, a urologist answers "does cranberry juice help UTIs?" and weighs in on just how beneficial these little red fruits can be for your bladder.

What Is a UTI?

Simply put, a urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection in the urinary system — most commonly the bladder — that causes symptoms such as burning while peeing, frequent urination, and discomfort in the lower abdomen, says Howard Goldman, M.D., a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic's Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute. Your urine may also smell bad, appear milky or cloudy, or contain blood, and you might feel tired, shaky, confused, or weak (though these symptoms are more common in older people), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Office on Women's Health.

How do bacteria sneak into the urinary tract in the first place? In people with vaginas, the opening of the urethra (the tube from the bladder that transports urine out of the body) is close to the vagina and anus — the main sources of UTI-causing bacteria such as E. coli — so germs are more likely to enter the urethra than in people with penises. People with vaginas also have a shorter urethra than those with penises, making it easier for any bacteria at the urethral opening to travel to the bladder, according to the OWH. "Most of the time, when you go to the bathroom and pee, it just washes everything out," says Dr. Goldman. "But for whatever reason, in some cases, the bacteria will stick to the inner lining of the bladder and start to multiply, and then you get a UTI."

Currently, the standard course of treatment for a UTI is prescription antibiotics. But for folks who have recurrent UTIs — at least two UTIs in a six-month period or three in a year — antibiotics may be used to treat and help prevent future infections, says Dr. Goldman. People who routinely develop UTIs after sexual activity (which can cause the transfer of germs from the vagina and anus to the urethra) may be prescribed low-dose antibiotics to take each time they have sex, says Dr. Goldman. "Let's say they just get three or four UTIs a year, we'll give them a prescription for an antibiotic and tell them when they feel the symptoms, they can go ahead and take it themselves — we call that self-start therapy," he explains. Similarly, individuals who have recurrent UTIs that are not associated with sexual activity may also be prescribed a low-dose antibiotic to take nightly to ward them off. (Wait, can you have sex with a UTI?)

The concern: The more you take antibiotics for UTIs, the more likely you are to develop antibiotic resistance — when the infection-causing bacteria change in a way that decreases or eliminates the effectiveness of the antibiotics, he explains. And that's where cranberry juice comes into play.

Does Cranberry Juice Help UTIs?

Unfortunately for the folks wondering "can cranberry juice cure a UTI?" the tart beverage won't do much good for your current infection. Chugging cranberry juice, as well as taking cranberry supplements, probably won't help you kick your active UTI to the curb, according to research published in the journal Clinics (San Paolo). One study of more than 300 people found that drinking cranberry juice doesn't help ease UTI symptoms any better than drinking water, and other research found no "symptomatic benefit" from drinking cranberry juice in combination with antibiotics while experiencing a UTI.

However, sipping on cranberry juice and taking cranberry tablets could help prevent UTIs from coming back, says Dr. Goldman. Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins, chemical compounds that give the fruit its signature red hue and may play a role in warding off UTIs when regularly consumed, he explains. "The idea is if you have cranberries and you have these proanthocyanidins floating around in your urine, that will hopefully prevent some of the bacteria from sticking to the lining of your bladder," he says. Without adhesion, the bacteria can't infect the liningand cause a UTI, according to the Clinics (San Paolo) research.

Science backs up the fruit's potential preventative effects, too: A meta-analysis of seven studies found that consuming cranberry products (including juice and tablets) reduced the risk of UTI recurrence by 26 percent among otherwise healthy women. More specifically, in a year-long study of 150 women with recurrent UTIs, 32 percent of the placebo group contracted a UTI, compared to 20 percent of the participants who drank 250 milliliters of cranberry juice three times daily and 18 percent of the participants who took concentrated cranberry tablets twice daily. Consuming 500 milligrams of cranberry fruit powder daily for six months has also been found to significantly reduce the incidence of UTIs, according to the American Urological Association. And, as of 2019, the AUA's guidelines state that clinicians may suggest cranberry products, including juices and tablets, as a preventative treatment for people with recurrent, uncomplicated UTIs — UTIs in generally healthy patients with "normal" urinary tracts. (FTR, complicated UTIs have a higher risk of treatment failure, typically require longer antibiotic courses, and often occur in people with penises, pregnant people, immunocompromised people, and the elderly, among others.)

The key word here is "potentially." Research on consuming cranberry to prevent UTIs in elderly populations and pregnant people have had inconsistent results, and studies investigating its effects among people undergoing gynecological surgeries and folks with multiple sclerosis didn't show any benefits, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

That said, you likely don't have much to lose if you decide to give the prevention technique a shot. "One of the reasons that cranberry juice, powders, whatever, have been utilized so much over the years [is that] there's really no harm," says Dr. Goldman. "The only harm would be the calories [in juice] if someone's trying to watch their weight, but otherwise, it's a very safe — there are no side effects, no harm, nothing like that."

Not to mention, UTI prevention may not be the only health benefit the fruit has to offer. The proanthocyanidins found in cranberries are a type of flavonoid — a plant compound that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects, according to the Oregon State University's Micronutrient Information Center.

How Much Cranberry Juice Should You Consume for UTIs?

Since the amount of cranberry — and thus, proanthocyanidins — in a juice or tablet varies from brand to brand, says Dr. Goldman, it might be tough to achieve the same benefits as the research has found. "You could have three different kinds of juice, and they [all] have different cranberry concentrations, he adds. To make matters even more complicated, there isn't one recommended dose of cranberry juice to consume for UTI prevention.

Still, clinical research suggests drinking 240 to 300 milliliters (about 8 to 10 ounces) of cranberry juice cocktail daily may prevent half of UTI recurrences, according to the Clinics (San Paolo) article. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows cranberry juice manufacturers to claim the drink "may help reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs in healthy women" only on labels of drinks containing at least 27 percent juice, consider choosing a bevvie with at least that concentration.

Cranberry juice tends to have a high sugar and caloric content, however, so downing a glass or two each day may not be the best for your health in some instances, says Dr. Goldman. "That's why a lot of people will prefer to take a powder or a tablet," he adds. "If you take a cranberry tablet that has a high concentration, that could be equivalent to drinking four cups of cranberry juice."

There ​​isn't enough evidence to support one formulation (re: drink vs. tablet) over another, according to the AUA. So if sugar or calories is a concern, consider taking a supplement containing at least 500 milligrams of 100 percent cranberry fruit powder daily, which "limited scientific evidence" shows may reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs, according to the FDA's labeling guidelines. When in doubt, ask your doctor about the cranberry juice or supplement dosing that may be best for you. (Related: Are Dietary Supplements Really Safe?)

The TL;DR On Cranberry Juice for UTIs

So, does cranberry juice help UTIs? While drinking cranberry juice or taking supplements may help fend off recurrent UTIs, it's not the be-all and end-all of prevention.

Other measures you can take to potentially minimize your risk of developing a UTI include urinating at least every three to four hours and before and after sex to flush out any bacteria, wiping your genitals from front to back after using the porcelain throne, and cleaning the exterior of your nether regions each day, according to the OWH. Drinking more fluid and, for postmenopausal people, using a vaginal hormonal cream that helps restore the "good" bacteria (which fights off the "bad," infection-causing bacteria that can ultimately reach the bladder) can also help, says Dr. Goldman. It may also be beneficial to take the oral supplement D-mannose, "which is a kind of sugar that actually has been shown to block bacteria from sticking to the wall [of the urinary tract]," he adds.

Still, no antibiotic-free technique is a sure-fire way to keep UTIs at bay. "There are some people that, even with all these healthy things, still get [recurrent] UTIs," says Dr. Goldman "We don't really have a choice but to put them on the low-dose antibiotics [to prevent them]."

Translation: If you keep developing UTIs, don't just gulp down three glasses of cranberry juice and cross your fingers; talk to your doc about the prevention measures that are best for you and your body.

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