Home Remedies for a UTI: Cranberry Juice?
“Home Remedies for a UTI: Cranberry Juice?” was written by Oregon Health Sciences dietetic intern Rachel Moore. Reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND.
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What is a UTI?
A UTI, or urinary tract infection, refers to a bacterial infection in the urinary tract.
The urinary tract includes:
- kidneys (where urine is made)
- ureters (tubes urine passes through to get to the bladder)
- bladder (where urine is stored until you use the toilet)
- urethra (the tube pee comes from when you urinate)
Our bodies have natural ways of protecting us from UTIs. Our urinary systems only allow for a one-way flow of urine. Therefore, urine goes from the kidneys, through the ureters, and to the bladder to storage.
This prevents urine from flowing in the opposite direction from the ureter to the kidneys.
This one-way flow helps to flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urinary tract. Sometimes, this one-way flow isn’t able to flush out all the bacteria before a UTI occurs.
Of note, there are medical conditions that cause urine to go back up the urinary tract to the kidneys. These conditions, like vesicoureteral reflux, increase risk of UTIs. This condition is more common in children. And it can be managed through a variety of interventions.
The most effective treatment for a UTI is antibiotics. However, taking antibiotics too often may lead to antibiotic resistance. Or it may increase your risk for developing UTIs or other infections in the future.
Some people resort to home remedies to try to prevent and treat mild UTIs. While a home remedy might give symptom relief, it is important to seek medical care for UTI symptoms.
Risks of UTIs
Urinary tract infections are very common, especially among women. Nearly half of all women report having at least one UTI in their lifetime.
Women develop UTIs more often than men because women have shorter urethras. This means bacteria doesn’t have to travel as far up the urinary tract to cause infection.
Additionally, a woman’s urethra is closer to the rectum. This allows bacteria from the rectum to easily infect the urinary tract. While UTIs are common in women, men can also experience UTIs.
UTIs can be very uncomfortable. And may lead to serious health problems if left untreated.
As we age, our risk of UTIs increase. It has been reported that over 10% of women over the age of 65 and almost 30% of women over the age of 85 report experiencing a UTI in the past 12 months.
For both men and women, knowing the causes and symptoms of a UTI is important. It may help prevent an infection. Or even assist in identifying the early signs of a UTI.
Causes of UTIs
UTIs can be caused by a variety of factors. Here are some of the most common.
- Age: UTIs are common in older adults. Especially in those living in nursing homes.
- Sex: Women are at a higher risk of developing a UTI, especially if they have had one in the past. Postmenopausal women also experience a change in estrogen levels, which can lead to a higher risk for bacterial infection.
- Sexual Intercourse: Many people develop UTIs as a result of sexual activity. Sexual intercourse can cause bacteria to enter the urinary tract and may lead to infection.
- Blockages: Kidney stones or an enlarged prostate can cause blockages in the urinary tract. This makes it difficult to completely empty the bladder. Subsequently, this may allow bacteria to grow and cause infection.
- Immune System Decline: Our immune system declines with age. Other conditions that decrease the effectiveness of the immune system include chemotherapy or diabetes. Poor immune function means your body has a harder time fighting off infections.
- Catheter Use: Frequent catheter use can increase one’s chances of developing a UTI. A catheter tube can carry bacteria from the outside of the body up the urinary tract and into the bladder, where it can cause infection.
- Immobility: Those who must lie in bed for long periods of time or need assistance using the restroom may not be able to empty their bladder as often as they should. This can increase the risk of developing a UTI.
UTIs can present differently in different people. Here are some common UTI symptoms:
- Frequent need to urinate
- Cloudy or bloody urine
- Pain or burning with urination
- Pressure in the lower abdomen or pelvis
- Nausea or vomiting
Elderly individuals may show symptoms not seen in younger populations. These symptoms include:
Always talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Or if you suspect you have a UTI.
What Does the Science Say About UTIs and Cranberry Juice?
Let’s get right to the point! There is limited evidence that supports the effectiveness of cranberry juice for healing an already-present UTI. But, some evidence does suggest that cranberry juice may be useful in preventing UTIs.
What does that mean? It means we really don’t know if cranberry juice can help when you already have a UTI. But it may be able to help in preventing UTIs.
What if it Works?
OK, so the science is limited in showing the connection between cranberry juice healing UTI symptoms. But what if it has worked for you or for a friend?
The myth that cranberry juice alleviates UTI symptoms may come from the fact that adequate fluids. And hydration can help flush bacteria out of the urinary tract.
One important consideration about science is that it can always change. Scientists are working hard at research and learning new information, so the science with the UTI cranberry juice connection can always change.
Preventing a UTI: Cranberry Juice
As mentioned, some evidence actually does suggest that cranberry juice may be useful in preventing UTIs.
Cranberry juice has powerful antioxidants that may strengthen the immune system. Additionally, cranberries contain A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs), which may prevent bacteria, such as E. Coli, from binding to the bladder wall.
However, the dosage of cranberry needed for PACs to be effective against UTIs is unknown.
Are All Cranberry Products the Same?
If you decide to drink cranberry juice, keep in mind that not all cranberry products are created equal.
Cranberry Juice vs. Cranberry Cocktail
It is important to note that cranberry juice and cranberry cocktail are not the same thing.
Cranberry cocktail is often high in added sugar, may have a blend of fruit juices, and may be quite low in actual cranberry juice. Just because the juice bottle has a picture of cranberries on the front does not mean cranberries are the main ingredient.
Some cranberry cocktails contain apple or grape juice as their main ingredient. And high fructose corn syrup is typically added to make the product sweeter.
Think of cranberry cocktail juice as a punch or sweetened beverage. It may taste like cranberries, but the cranberries are an add-in and not the main feature.
100% Cranberry Juice
If you are going to choose cranberry juice to potentially prevent UTIs, you should be sure you are purchasing actual cranberry juice.
Most cranberry juice labels will say 100% cranberry juice. They want to make it clear their product is superior to their cocktail competitors. But, when in doubt, read the nutrition label.
Cranberry juice is naturally tart. Keep that in mind before you take a sip. Some brands will contain more or less sugar. Choose a cranberry juice that best fits your personal preference. Here are a few cranberry juice options* available on the market today:
While there is no conclusive evidence for the effectiveness of cranberry juice in healing UTIs, consumption of 100% cranberry juice won’t hurt. And it can give you some extra hydration (but be sure you are still drinking enough water! This part is critical.)
As an alternative to cranberry juice, some choose to consume cranberry supplements. Cranberry supplements are a capsule or tablet composed of cranberry extracts.
Some studies have shown that cranberry supplements may be more effective than cranberry juice in preventing UTIs because supplements contain concentrated levels of PACs (proanthocyanidins).
However, not all cranberry supplements are made the same, and some may contain juices from other fruits. Choose a supplement that contains at least 36 mg of PACs and is made of pure cranberry extract.
Here are a few cranberry supplement options* available on the market today:
If you are looking for the very best cranberry recipes, be sure to check out Only Crans. This website features a variety of cranberry recipes from entrees to desserts. And it was created by a culinary dietitian. Win-win.
Alternative Ways to Manage UTIs
There are many ways to both prevent and manage UTIs. While cranberries are trendy, there are some tried and true ways to manage UTIs.
- Hydration: Staying adequately hydrated can help dilute urine and flush out bacteria that may cause UTIs.
- Urinate if the need arises: Frequent urination can also help bacteria leave the body. Don’t just “hold it”.
- Avoid beverages that irritate the bladder: Instead of soda, coffee, caffeinated tea, and alcohol, consider drinking more water and herbal teas.
- Use the bathroom before and after sex: This may help flush any bacteria from the urinary tract.
- Good Hygiene: Bathing often and changing undergarments daily can help manage and prevent UTIs. If the individual wears adult diapers, they should be changed frequently. Any soiled clothes or diapers should be changed immediately. For women, wiping front to back after a bowel movement can prevent bacteria from entering the urinary tract.
- Probiotics: Probiotics, which contain “good” bacteria, may be beneficial for preventing UTIs by restricting “bad” bacteria from causing infections. Probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha, or they can be purchased in supplement form.
- Antibiotics: If a UTI isn’t going away, talk to your doctor. They may prescribe antibiotics, which will aid in resolving a UTI.
When to See a Doctor About a UTI
If you are experiencing more than one symptom of a UTI or suspect you have a UTI, it is important to seek treatment from a doctor. For severe UTIs, antibiotics are the most effective treatment.
Repeat or frequent UTIs (more than two in six months or three in a year) may indicate an underlying issue such as uterine prolapse, bladder obstruction, or kidney stones.
Conclusion: UTI Cranberry Juice
While there is not enough evidence to suggest that cranberry juice is effective for treating UTIs, there is some evidence to suggest cranberry juice can be beneficial in preventing UTIs. However, consuming pure cranberry juice or a cranberry supplement likely won’t hurt.
Staying adequately hydrated and practicing good hygiene have been shown to help prevent UTIs. Always talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements or if you are experiencing UTI symptoms.
- Barnett, B. J., & Stephens, D. S. (1997). Urinary Tract Infection: An Overview. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 245-249. Retrieved from Ovid Technologies.
- Diseases, N. I. (n.d.). Bladder Infection (Urinary Tract Infection – UTI) in Adults. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-infection-uti-in-adults/definition-facts
- Fink, J. L. (2020, August 11). When to See a Doctor for a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Retrieved from Health Grades: https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/kidneys-and-the-urinary-system/when-to-see-a-doctor-for-a-urinary-tract-infection-uti
- Hospital, A. R. (2019, May 13). The Risk of UTIs Increase as You Age – Here’s Why. Retrieved from Alaska Regional Hospital: https://alaskaregional.com/blog/entry/the-risk-of-utis-increase-as-you-age-heres-why
- Schultz, H. (2021, April 8). New data supports idea that phytochemical profile of cranberry extracts determines UTI benefits. Retrieved from Nutra Ingredients: https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2021/04/07/New-data-supports-idea-that-phytochemical-profile-of-cranberry-extracts-determines-UTI-benefits