How can cranberry help with UTIs?
The pathogenic bacteria that cause cystitis are thought to be very clever and well equipped for the job. See, they possess special structures called fimbriae, which I think of as little arms with sticky hands on the end! Unfortunately for us they can use these to latch on to the cells lining the inside of your urinary tract.
Once attached, these bacteria can do their thing and cause all sorts of chaos – they can multiply, contribute to all the uncomfortable symptoms we associate with UTIs and even work their way up towards your kidneys! This is when it can get more serious (kidney infections are definitely one to be avoided), so it’s in our best interest to try and avoid this.
Cranberries are thought to contain a unique sugar component called d-mannose which bad bacteria are able to mistake for our urinary tract cells. All going well, they can then attach to these instead of us and can get flushed out of your system when you next go to the loo – ideal!
Cranberries for treating UTIs?
Considering how cranberry is thought to work, it’s reasonable to assume it might be helpful for the treatment of cystitis and UTIs.
However, in a recent statement by the big healthcare governing body NICE, despite admitting that there is plenty of research surrounding the use of cranberries for UTIs, the conclusion drawn from the available research wasn’t exactly very promising. They concluded that there ‘isn’t enough convincing evidence to recommend cranberry for the treatment of this condition’.
Their advice instead is to stick to plenty of fluids and take painkillers or antibiotics as necessary; although, they do aim to review the advice further at a later stage, especially in terms of the use of antibiotics for this condition. Given the threat of antibiotic resistance I think this is very wise!
Cranberries for preventing UTIs instead?
Based on the research, could cranberry sit better for helping to prevent cystitis? Yes! We know that the structure of cranberries means that bad bacteria may stick to them rather than your vulnerable urinary tract, and they therefore may act as an aid for flushing bacteria out of your system.
In this way cranberry would act as a more suitable preventative measure; and there is certainly some evidence out there to help back this theory up.
Research examples: cranberry for prevention
1 - A clinical trial involving adults in the Netherlands found that after taking 500mg cranberry capsules twice daily for a year, participants had a 26% reduction in the incidence of UTIs compared to a control group1.
2 - Even more pronounced were the results of another trial set in Italy. It was found that the use of cranberry products was more protective than lifestyle advice alone, for preventing the incidence of UTIs. Plus, up to 1/3 of the participants involved in the study had no incidence of infections (after previously suffering from recurrent infections) by the end of the trial2. These results are certainly promising!
Putting it into action... The best advice for protection
So here are my tips for getting to grips with UTIs going forward:
1 – Employ helpful lifestyle strategies
Although cranberry juice can be a helpful addition to a prevention strategy for UTIs and cystitis, as mentioned in some of the research above, there’s no denying that incorporating some helpful lifestyle habits is a super important first step.
Aim to drink plenty of plain, still water daily (at least 1.5l) and refraining from excess sugar, caffeine and alcohol. These are all beneficial tactics which can be easily implemented at home without the need for medical intervention, and may help you to curb cystitis or UTIs once and for all.
2 - Carefully consider the need for antibiotics
Whilst in some cases antibiotics may be necessary to help treat an infection, and especially in the case of more advanced infections (be sure to look out for warning signs such as blood in your urine or back pain which could suggest you’re at risk of a kidney infection), they shouldn’t be the go-to when it comes to prevention and shouldn’t generally be used long-term.
Always ask your doctor for advice around this if you aren’t sure.
3 - Include some cranberry in your regime
Whilst the jury is still out on using cranberry for the treatment of UTIs, when it comes to prevention, it seems cranberry could be the number one go to, to help manage your symptoms.