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Cranberries and Urinary Tract Health: What's the Verdict?

Do you remember who first told you to drink cranberry juice for urinary tract health? Chances are it was your mother or grandmother.

“When I came down with my first UTI years ago,” says a Women’s Health Connecticut employee, “I remember my mother showing up at my door with a bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice in tow. I dutifully drank the entire bottle over the next few days, and took some concentrated cranberry pills for good measure. I had never heard of this remedy before, but my mother assured me that it was commonly recommended to ease the symptoms of UTIs.”

So where did Mom get this idea?

Cranberries have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Native Americans used them as a poultice to help heal wounds, and the first European settlers found that consuming Vitamin C-rich cranberries warded off Scurvy. So how did cranberries become associated with bladder health? And more importantly, do they have any real benefit? An old theory, since disproved, credited the acidity in the berries with sterilizing the urine, thus preventing infections. However, multiple studies have shown that cranberry juice does prevent certain types of common bacteria from attaching to the walls of cells in the urinary tract.

According to Dr. Keith Falter of Women’s Health Connecticut, “The use of cranberry to treat or prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) is a topic that has been explored in the medical community for over a hundred years. After that amount of time we should have some definitive evidence on its efficacy, right? Unfortunately, not.”

The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published an article looking at the effect of cranberry vs placebo in the prevention of UTIs in elderly women. The conclusion was that cranberry was likely no better than placebo. Over the course of these 100 years there have been countless studies, across multiple patient populations, examining this very question. 

“While the results of the studies are inconsistent at best,” says Dr. Falter, “I believe that it is reasonable to continue enjoying cranberry juice if it's something that you enjoy. I would exercise caution before spending extra hard earned money on expensive cranberry supplements though. My hope is that the definitive answer will be available before the next 100 years, and when it is we'll have it for you here!”

So if you already like cranberries, don’t hesitate to take that second helping of cranberry sauce at your holiday table! To learn more about UTIs and bladder health, read more here: Bladder Health for Women




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