Cranberries and Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

We’ve all heard the old wives tale about cranberries curing UTI’s.  A UTI, or urinary tract infection, is an infection that occurs in any part of the urinary system, including the bladder, urethra, ureters, and kidneys. UTIs are commonly caused by bacteria, with Escherichia coli (E. coli) being the most frequent culprit and typically occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to spread in the bladder. The urinary system is designed to keep out bacteria. But the defenses sometimes fail. When that happens, bacteria may take hold and grow into a full-blown infection in the urinary tract.

Urinary tract infections are generally more common in individuals with female anatomy compared to those with male anatomy. This is primarily because the female urethra is shorter and closer to the anus, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter the urinary tract. The following groups are more commonly afflicted with UTIs:

  • Females: Due to the shorter urethra, bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to reach the bladder. Hormonal changes in women, especially during pregnancy and menopause, can also influence UTI risk.
  • Sexually Active Women: Sexual activity can introduce bacteria into the urethra, increasing the likelihood of UTIs.
  • Postmenopausal Women: Decreased estrogen levels can lead to changes in the urinary tract, making it more susceptible to infections.
  • People with Urinary Tract Abnormalities: Structural abnormalities in the urinary tract can impede the flow of urine and allow bacteria to accumulate, leading to UTIs.
  • Catheterized Patients: Individuals who require urinary catheters have an increased risk of UTIs due to the direct access of bacteria to the bladder.
  • Elderly Individuals: Weakened immune systems and other age-related factors can make the elderly population more susceptible to UTIs.

While UTIs are less common in males, they can still occur. Factors that might increase UTI risk in males include an enlarged prostate, anal intercourse, and certain medical conditions.

It’s important to note that anyone, regardless of gender, can experience UTIs.

 

1)    The symptoms of UTIs are unpleasant. They are: 

    • A burning, painful feeling when urinating. 
    • A need to urinate more often. 
    • Sudden urges to urinate. 
    • Blood in the urine or cloudy urine. 

2)    The risks of untreated UTIs can be significant. They include: 

    • Infection of the kidney or prostate, which are much more difficult to treat. 
    • Sepsis, which occurs when bacteria from the urinary tract enter the bloodstream. This can be very serious, even deadly. 

3)    The standard treatment for UTIs is antibiotics. This treatment is usually effective, but there are side effects to antibiotic treatment, especially when it is repeated 3-4 times per year.

 

4)    For men with repeated UTIs caused by an enlarged prostrate, the standard treatment is usually prostrate reduction surgery. Again, this treatment is usually effective, but it can have some life-changing side effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, they include: 

    • Urinary incontinence (difficulty holding urine). 
    • Urgent and frequent need to urinate. 
    • Having to get up more frequently in the night to urinate. 

In short: 

  • The symptoms of UTIs are unpleasant. 
  • The risk of not treating UTIs is significant. 
  • Standard UTI treatments work but can have significant side effects. (1)

 

So what else can you do? Cranberries have long been suggested as a natural remedy for UTIs. It’s believed that certain compounds found in cranberries, particularly proanthocyanidins (PACs), may help prevent bacterial adherence to the urinary tract walls, making it more difficult for bacteria to cause an infection. While, the scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of cranberries in preventing or treating UTIs has been mixed, a recent study (2)

 

Found that cranberry products may help to prevent UTIs which cause symptoms in women with frequent UTIs, in children with UTIs and in people who have undergone an intervention involving the bladder.

 

Cranberries are nutrient-rich fruits that offer a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fibers. Here are some of the key nutrients found in cranberries:

 

 

  • Vitamin C: Cranberries are a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that supports the immune system, skin health, and wound healing.
  • Fiber: Cranberries are high in dietary fiber, which supports digestive health and helps maintain regular bowel movements.
  • Vitamin E: Another antioxidant, vitamin E helps protect cells from oxidative damage and supports skin and eye health.
  • Vitamin K: Cranberries contain vitamin K, which plays a role in blood clotting and bone health.
  • Manganese: Manganese is a mineral that contributes to bone health, metabolism, and antioxidant defense.
  • Copper: Copper is involved in various enzymatic reactions and contributes to the health of connective tissues, nerves, and the immune system.
  • Vitamin A: Cranberries contain small amounts of vitamin A, which is important for vision, immune function, and skin health.
  • Potassium: Potassium is an essential mineral that helps regulate fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signals.
  • Phytochemicals: Cranberries are rich in various phytochemicals, including flavonoids and polyphenols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Proanthocyanidins (PACs): PACs are a group of polyphenols found in cranberries that are believed to be responsible for their potential benefits in preventing urinary tract infections by inhibiting bacterial adherence to the urinary tract walls.
  • Quercetin: Quercetin is a flavonoid found in cranberries that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
  • Ellagic Acid: This polyphenol has been studied for its potential role in combating cancer and promoting heart health.

It’s important to note that the nutrient content of cranberries can vary based on factors such as the variety of cranberries, growing conditions, are they picked vine ripened and preparation methods. (3)

 

A recent study (found that the water-soluble PACs were much more effective at preventing bacteria from binding to the cells lining the bladder than the water-insoluble PACs. The author of the study concluded that: (4)

 

  • Cranberry juice and cranberry products made from the juice are likely to be much more effective at combating UTIs than cranberry products derived from the pulp. 

It’s a good idea to add organic 100% unsweetened cranberry juice into your healthy habit. Along with plenty of water to help keep your body healthy and stay ahead of getting a UTI.

 

 

(1)   https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20353447

 

(2)   Gabrielle Williams et al, Conchrane Database of Systemic Reviews, 17 April 2023

 

(3)  https://chat.openai.com/

 

(4)  AB Howell et al, Journal of Dietary Supplements,19: 621-639, 2022)

 

 

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