The Research on Cranberry Juice and Urinary Tract Infections

There are a lot of different ways to use food as medicine to improve our health and fight infections. You have probably heard that you should eat bananas to prevent muscle cramps or eat fish to keep your brain sharp. Some of this advice is rooted in science and some of it isn’t.

So where does drinking cranberry juice to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) fit in? Is there any science to back it up? This article will explain what causes UTIs and whether cranberry juice can actually prevent them in the future.

1. What Causes a UTI?

According to, painful UTIs are a result of bacteria entering the bladder. The bacteria, most often E.coli can migrate from the anus (as it is usually found in the colon or around the anus region) to the urethra.  This migration usually occurs after sex or poor bathroom hygiene (wiping forwards from the anus).

The infection can occur in the urethra, bladder, or kidneys. From the urethra, the bacteria can spread to the bladder. Sometimes, urinating can eliminate the bacteria from the bladder. However, if the bacteria has already grown and spread, urinating might not be enough to flush the bacteria out.  If the bacterium spreads even further to the kidneys, the infection becomes even more serious and needs to be treated quickly. Young infants and children, individuals with medical conditions or compromised immune systems, sexually active women, and men with an enlarged prostate are most at risk.


2. What are the Symptoms of a UTI?

If you’ve had a UTI before, you might know the symptoms all too well. If you haven’t had one before, read on to know symptoms you should be looking for. The Mayo Clinic describes the symptoms of UTI as both pain related to urine/urinating or pain that appears elsewhere in the body.  Pain associated with urine includes a burning feeling when urinating, frequent and immediate need to urinate, urinating in small quantities, discolored urine (cloudy, red, bright pink, or brown), and strongly smelling urine.

Depending on which part of the urinary tract is infected (kidneys, bladder, or urethra), you might experience any of the following: pain in the pubic area, fever, nausea, upper back pain, pain in the side of your abdominal, or vomiting.  Remember that you may experience some of these symptoms and not others, so make an appointment with a medical professional as soon as your symptoms occur.

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 3. Cranberry Juice for a Healthy Bladder?

Cranberry juice has received a lot of praise as the super drink that can prevent UTIs from occurring. The belief is that cranberry juice is able to prevent UTIs because it contains compounds that are not broken down by the digestive system. These compounds are thought to prevent bad bacteria from sticking to good bacteria normally found in the urinary tract, and therefore preventing the bacteria from growing and causing a UTI. In addition to purchasing the juice, cranberry tablets or capsules containing extracts are often available in health food stores.

If you’ve suffered from a UTI in the past, you might happily down pints of the sour juice solely in hopes of preventing another one.  Before you stock your fridge shelves with juice, read on to find out what the research have to say about the ability of cranberry juice to prevent UTIs. It is fact or folklore?

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4. What The Research Has to Say

The 2012 Cochrane Review on the effectiveness of using cranberry juice to prevent UTIs suggests that Mom may have been wrong, after all. This review examined 24 studies that compared the use of cranberry products (such as cranberry tablets or capsules) to a placebo, no treatment, or alternative therapies.  What did the researchers find?

The studies found that for women that repeatedly suffered from UTIs, drinking cranberry juice did not significantly decrease the number of UTIs they experienced compared to other sufferers that didn’t consume the juice.  Additionally, compared to people that consumed a placebo or no received no treatment at all, people taking cranberry products had only slightly fewer instances of UTIs. In short, the combined results of 24 studies don’t support the idea that cranberry juice (or other products) can prevent UTIs, so save your money on purchasing cranberry juice unless you happen to love the taste.


5. The Bottom Line

Without a doubt, UTIs are painful, inconvenient, and an infection you definitely want to try and prevent. However, there is not much evidence to support that a glass of cranberry juice a day will keep the UTI away. But if you like the taste of cranberry juice, there is no real harm in drinking it either. Just remember that even natural juices can contain a lot of sugar, so be mindful of moderating your consumption.

Until there is a magical ingredient you can take, focusing on the factors we do know contribute to UTIs is your best to prevent them from returning.  According to the experts, the best UTI prevention tips include proper washroom hygiene (whipping from to back), drink adequate liquids (to help flush bacteria from the urethra more frequently), wearing breathable undergarments (to prevent moisture buildup), and speaking to your health care provider to determine if you are a candidate for prescription medications.

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Catherine Roberts

Catherine is our go-to writer for women’s health news, diet trends and more. She’s dedicated to providing Activebeat readers with the information they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle every day.