Can Cranberries Really Protect Against Urinary Tract Infections?
By Sheryl Kraft
Some things never get old. Take old wives' tales and folk remedies, for instance. They're forever in the background noise of our lives. Eat chocolate and angry zits will appear… step on a crack and break your mother's back…swallow your gum and it'll stay in your stomach for seven years… REALLY??
And then there's this one: Cranberries protect against urinary tract infections.
Aha! Finally found one that might be worth listening to.
The benefits of cranberry juice and other cranberry products in staving off, and treating, urinary tract infections (UTIs) have been long debated by scientists. Studies were all over the place with proof (or not) of cranberry's powers. Yes, one study found, consuming cranberry products definitely decreases the likelihood of developing a UTI. No, another study found, women who consumed these products instead developed more UTIs.
Yet many doctors still advised their patients with these infections to incorporate cranberry products into their treatment plan, since antibiotic use - the usual treatment - carried problems of its own, including drug resistance, which in turn made bacterial infections that much more difficult to treat.
UTIs are caused by germs (usually bacteria), which enter the urethra and proceed to the bladder. Next up? An infection - usually in the bladder itself but capable of also spreading to the kidneys. Our bodies can usually fight these bacteria, but not always - about 50% of all women will have a bout with a UTI at least once in their lives, and 30% will suffer recurrent infections. And women - lucky us! - are more likely to get UTIs than men, due to our the shorter length and location (closer to the anus) of our urethras.
The new report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine points out that perhaps some of the data in 2011 that found cranberry products increased, rather than decreased, the likelihood of developing a UTI were due to the fact that many women in the study were drinking sugar-laden cranberry juice - and sugar can promote the growth of bacteria. This latest study led by Dr. Chih-Hung Wang of the department of emergency medicine at National Taiwan University Hospital collected data from 13 different trials, which represented over 1,600 participants - and this time found that after studying consumption of both cranberries and cranberry products like juices and pills people eating more cranberry were less likely to develop UTIs. Thirty-eight percent less likely, which certainly points to the potential triumph of these little red gems against pesky and sometimes painful UTIs. Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs) that can prevent the adhesion of certain of bacteria, including E. coli, associated with urinary tract infections to the urinary tract wall, according to the Cranberry Institute.
Confusing? Perhaps. But promising, because cranberries may also hold more health benefits than just this; among them valuable antioxidants and phytonutrients that might help protect against things like heart and gum disease, stomach ulcers, and cancer.
Other ways to protect yourself against UTIs include urinating before and after sexual activity, wiping from the front to the back after using the bathroom, avoiding tight-fitting pants and drinking plenty of fluids but avoiding those containing alcohol and caffeine, which can irritate the bladder.