Sept. 11, 2012 (San Francisco) -- Early research suggests cranberries, vitamin C, acupuncture, and other alternative treatments may help to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) in some women, according to a Dutch infectious diseases specialist.
While the treatments don't appear to work as well as antibiotics, they also will not contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, says Suzanne Geerlings, MD, of the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam.
But other experts say the evidence for alternative treatments is weak, and they point out that studies of such treatments often show conflicting results.
Speaking here at the annual infectious diseases meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, all agree that further study is needed before cranberries or other alternative treatments can be recommended as standard UTI fighters.
Urinary tract infections are the second most common type of infection in the body, accounting for about 8.1 million visits to health care providers each year, according to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Women are especially prone to UTIs; their lifetime risk is more than 50%. UTIs are not as common in men but can be serious when they occur.
Many women have frequent UTIs. About 20% of young women with a first UTI will have a recurring infection. And with each UTI, the risk of repeat UTIs further rises.
A review of 10 studies involving more than 1,000 women showed that taking cranberry juice or cranberry capsules cut by one-third the number of UTIs over a year compared with placebo, Geerlings says. Younger women and those with repeat UTIs benefited most.
However, many of the women in the cranberry group dropped out of the studies early. Geerlings believes that's because many dropouts were assigned to drink the concentrated cranberry cocktails, "which are not very palatable." She suggests future research use capsules.
Her team recently performed a study pitting cranberry capsules against antibiotics in more than 200 premenopausal women who had an average of seven UTIs a year. Over 12 months, antibiotics lowered the average number of UTIs to two vs. four for the cranberry capsules.