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Cranberries for UTI Prevention

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Do Cranberries Really Prevent UTIs? The Evidence continued...

The Cons

Before you rush out and buy cartons of cranberry juice, there are a few caveats you should know about. 

  • First, cranberries don't seem to work for everyone. Although they may appear to help prevent symptomatic urinary tract infections in some women who are at risk for them, there's no real evidence that cranberries offer any benefit to other groups of people, such as children or seniors.
  • Cranberries don't prevent bacteria from growing in the urinary tract -- they just make it harder for the bacteria to take hold. Cranberry juice also doesn't treat urinary tract infections once they've started.
  • Because of their acidity, cranberries can be hard for some people to take. Up to half of people in studies dropped out because of unpleasant side effects like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), upset stomach, nausea, and diarrhea. Many people in the studies also balked at the tart-sweet taste day after day. People who don't like cranberry juice might find cranberry tablets easier to swallow.
  • In addition to its positive effects, cranberry juice can also have a negative effect on the urinary tract. Cranberry juice is high in salts called oxalates. When people drink a lot of cranberry juice, these salts can crystallize into hard urinary oxalate stones, especially in people who already tend to get these types of stones.
  • People who take the blood-thinning medication warfarin should avoid cranberry products because cranberries can interact with warfarin and cause excess bleeding.
  • Drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry pills isn't cheap. The cost can add up to $1,400 a year for cranberry juice and $624 a year for pills.

Deciding Whether to Drink Cranberry Juice

Currently, no medical organization recommends drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry pills to prevent UTIs. However, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada does suggest that women who often get UTIs drink pure cranberry-lingonberry juice to reduce their risk.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has stated that drinking cranberry juice has been shown to lower symptomatic UTIs but also states that there is not enough evidence to recommend its use to prevent UTIs.

For people who want to try cranberry products for UTI prevention, there are no real recommendations on how much to take or which form (juice vs. pills) works better. Different cranberry products have very different compositions.

Bottom line: If you like cranberry juice and it doesn't bother your stomach, aggravate another medical problem, or interact with medications, drink it. It might help prevent urinary tract infections, but don't expect it to magically cure every urinary tract problem that ails you.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Miller-Thrasher, MD on March 29, 2013
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