If you were to make a list of people's favourite juices, we're betting that up the top would be the classics: orange, apple, maybe pineapple or mango.
Not many people would immediately list cranberry juice as their go-to. Except maybe Nathan Apodaca, from the viral TikTok where he films himself skating to work, lip-syncing to Fleetwood Mac, while drinking from a bottle of — you guessed it — cranberry juice.
And if you haven't heard about it in that specific context, then you've definitely heard about it if you, or a friend, have ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI).
The second that tell-tale burning sensation hits when you need to pee, you know to — or you're quickly told to — hit up the cranberry juice. But can cranberry juice prevent urinary tract infections, or is it just an old wives' tale, a popular anecdotal solution or the real deal?
Let's rewind to the beginning, and dive on in.
What is a UTI?
Whether you know it by its acronym of UTI, or call it by its full name of urinary tract infection, the name does give it away upfront — it's an infection of any part of your urinary system .
That system is made up of your kidneys, ureters (which join the kidney to the bladder), the bladder, and the urethra (the tube where urine leaves your body, for the most basic description).
There are a few different types of UTIs: cystitis (infection of the bladder), urethritis (infection of the urethra), pyelonephritis (infection of the kidneys) and vaginitis (infection of the vagina).
It's one of the most common medical conditions requiring outpatient treatment, affecting over 150 million people per year, worldwide . Approximately 60% of women will experience at least one UTI in their lifetimes, with an estimated 25-35% of women diagnosed with a UTI suffering from recurrent infections within 6 months .
Men can also get it too — but among the "generally healthy population", the risk of having an uncomplicated UTI is 50 times higher for adult women, than adult men .
What are the symptoms?
If you've had UTIs before, then you know all too well what they are, but for the (lucky) uninitiated, here are the most common UTI symptoms:
- The urge to urinate more frequently and urgently, even if only a small amount
- A burning sensation when urinating
- A feeling that your bladder is still full even after you've been to the bathroom
- Pain above your pubic bone, lower back or sides
- Cloudy, bloody, dark or smelly urine.
Those are the lower urinary tract symptoms — if an infection is untreated and reaches the kidneys, in addition to UTI symptoms, you might also experience:
- Pain in your lower abdominal area or in your back
- Vomiting .
What causes UTIs?
Bacteria is what does it — UTIs are one of the most common bacterial infections . When bacteria enters the urinary tract, and multiply, there's your UTI.
The most common form of urinary tract infection is cystitis, an infection of the bladder. It's known as an uncomplicated UTI .
More specifically, it's Escherichia coli — E coli — that does it the majority of the time; it's reported to be the infecting organism in 85% of UTIs . It can easily spread to your urethra, where the next step is an E coli adhesion, to the lining of your urinary system.
What puts me at an increased risk of developing a UTI?
There are several factors that predispose women to a risk of developing urinary tract infections — and recurrent urinary tract infections.
Some of these include:
- Sexual intercourse
- Using contraception
- Genetics; and
- Bacterial virulence .
What are the benefits of cranberry for the body?
When it comes to cranberry juice, several studies have found that it possesses antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and antiadhesive properties .
As for the fruit itself, reviews have found that regular consumption of cranberries is "very important" in the maintenance of health, and in preventing cardiovascular disease. Not only that, but they contain flavonoids (myricetin and quercetin), a significant source of antioxidants .
Cranberries are also said to be "abundant" in nutritional components, and the fruit helps support digestive health, decreases inflammation associated with chronic disease and ageing, and can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes .
Does cranberry juice help with UTIs?
So it turns out that it's not just an old wives tale or anecdotal evidence that cranberry juice consumption helps with a urinary tract infection.
A randomised trial, double-blind and placebo-controlled, looked at women with a history of a recent urinary tract infection and found that cranberry juice consumption lowered the number of clinical urinary tract infections .
This is also true for older women — one randomised trial looking at women over the age of 50 found that, in terms of cystitis, the incidence of UTI recurrence was significantly lower in the group drinking cranberry juice, as opposed to those given the placebo. 49.2% in the placebo group, as opposed to 29.1% from the group who had to drink cranberry juice .
Other studies report that not only does cranberry juice reduce UTI recurrence, but also the number of people affected by urinary tract infections. It really can prevent UTIs .
And to really bring it home is a Cochrane review that looked at not only one randomised trial, but 10, with more than 1,000 patients. As for what it found?
That in instances of a good-quality randomised controlled trial in women, cranberry juice decreased the number of symptomatic urinary tract infections over a 12-month period — particularly in the instance of a recurrent urinary tract infection .
Exactly how does cranberry juice help with UTIs?
Okay, so we're going to get a little scientific here. Remember that annoying little bacteria called E coli that's responsible for the majority of urinary tract infections?
Well, cranberry juice has been shown to be effective in preventing the bacterial adhesion to the bladder wall that E coli is so fond of— in turn, preventing UTIs . It's the proanthocyanidins contained in cranberries that prevent UTIs; specifically, its anti-adherence properties .
One randomised trial that looked at the therapeutic efficacy of cranberry capsules — specifically in terms of preventing urinary tract infections in women undergoing elective gynecological surgery — found that the risk of developing a urinary tract infection caused by E coli was reduced by an estimated 62% .
Cranberry juice has also demonstrated effectiveness in patients with urinary tract infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics .
Is it just juice that is effective?
Remember the aforementioned — and unpronounceable —proanthocyanidins?
Well, cranberry proanthocyanidins — and the way it can prevent bacteria from adhering — is not exclusive to its juice form.
In fact, it's cranberry products as a whole that can help with preventing urinary tract infections. Think cranberry extracts, cranberry supplement powder and cranberry pills .
Best of all, clinical studies suggest that a cranberry treatment like this may decrease UTIs in healthy women. One meta-analysis found that cranberry can reduce UTI recurrence by 26%. . In fact, taking cranberry capsules — like a probiotic — can be more effective than just drinking cranberry juice for treating UTIs .
Kin Fertility’s Vaginal Probiotic contains Cranberry and a probiotic blend to support a healthy female urinary tract health and vaginal flora for balanced care down there.
Our formula contains cranberry to reduce the occurrence of cystitis, the most common UTI, along with premium ingredients to manage overall vaginal health.
How much cranberry juice should I drink?
So, when it comes to drinking cranberry juice to prevent UTIs (or to lower your UTI risk), it's a daily dosage of 240-300ml. It's said to prevent 50% of recurrent urinary tract infections .
One randomised trial suggests drinking cranberry juice in the morning and then drinking cranberry juice again in the evening. The "maximum therapeutic benefits" were found to occur within hours of cranberry juice being drunk, and the anti-adhesion effect was present in the urine for up to about 10 hours .
However, if you've ever had to drink cranberry juice — particularly, unsweetened cranberry juice — you know that it has a sour edge and bitter aftertaste. Translation: it's not particularly palatable over a long period of time. This was found throughout several clinical trials and is why there can be a preference for taking cranberry supplements as opposed to having to drink cranberry juice.
What are other ways can you treat UTIs?
Currently, the most common way to treat UTIs is with repeated courses of antibiotics or antibiotic use as a prophylactic . This isn't ideal as, if you suffer recurrent UTIs, you have an increased risk of developing antibiotic resistance. Another side effect of antibiotic use? Everyone's favourite vaginal friend, thrush .
For recurrent UTIs, there are some easy, mostly at-home methods to assist with UTI prevention:
- Drinking more fluids, particularly water
- Urinate immediately after sexual intercourse
- Urinate when you need to — don't "hold on"
- Wipe front to back when going to the bathroom, gently
- Wear cotton undies, and loose-fitting pants .
Photo credit: Pexels + Any Lane