Urinary tract infections (or UTIs), are one of the most common bacterial infections. If you have ever had a UTI, you know that it makes sense to do everything possible to prevent another one. The subject of cranberry and UTI prevention is often in the news. There are often confusing reports about cranberry’s effectiveness at preventing a UTI. In this article, we set the record straight on five myths about cranberry and UTI prevention.
Myth # 1: Cranberries work because they are acidic.
Cranberries have a long-standing reputation as a folk remedy for UTIs. Researchers used to think cranberries were beneficial because of their acidity. However, reasonable amounts of cranberry juice do not make urine more acidic. If acidity is not the reason that cranberries or cranberry supplements work to prevent a UTI, how do they work?
Amy Howell, Ph.D., an associate research scientist at The Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research at Rutgers University, was the first scientist to discover cranberry PACs. Foods such as green tea, chocolate, apples, and grapes contain B-type PACs. However, the A-type PACs found only in cranberries have proven bacterial anti-adhesion activity (AAA).
E. coli is the most common bacteria that can cause a UTI. Howell determined that these A-type PACs could bind to E. coli bacteria. When the E. coli bacteria bind to A-type PACs, your body can flush them out in your urine before a UTI begins.
Research indicates that a daily dose of at least 36 mg of PACs can help prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract wall. If the bacteria cannot stick, they cannot cause an infection.
The bottom line:
Cranberries contain A-type PACs which can bind to E. coli bacteria, making it easier for the E. coli to be flushed out in the urine before a UTI can start.
Myth # 2: Only women can benefit from cranberries.
Most UTIs begin when bacteria from the colon and rectal area enter the urinary tract through the urethra. The urethra is the tube that carries urine out of the body. Bacteria are ordinarily present in the bowel of men, women, and children. In most cases when bacteria enter the urinary tract, the flow of urine flushes out these bacteria.
While it is true that about 40-60% of women will experience a UTI at least once in her lifetime, and one in four will experience a repeat infection, it’s also possible for men and children to get a UTI. All those who have had a UTI can benefit from using cranberries to help decrease their risk of another one.
The bottom line:
Cranberries and cranberry supplements with 36 mg PACs from whole cranberry fruit can benefit anyone for prevention of UTIs.
Myth # 3: People with diabetes should avoid cranberry supplements.
There is a common myth that cranberry supplements are high in sugar and carbohydrates. For this reason, many people with diabetes think they should avoid taking them for UTI prevention.
There are several ways to get 36 mg of PACs from cranberry. As you can see from the numbers in the table below, eating dried cranberries or drinking cranberry juice supplies not only PACs but also calories, carbohydrates, and sugar. However, a cranberry supplement can often provide a low calorie, low carbohydrate, and low sugar alternative.
|Food, Drink, or Supplement||Calories||Grams of Sugar||Grams of Carbohydrate|
|8-10 ounces of cranberry juice cocktail||109 to 122||18 to 21||28 to 32|
|1 ounce dried, sweetened cranberries||87||18||23|
|1 ½ cups fresh cranberries||69||6||18|
|Cranberry supplement||0 to 5||0 to 1||0.5 to 1|
However, how is it possible that cranberry extract used to make a cranberry supplement doesn’t have any of the sugar normally present in cranberries? “The extraction technology removes the vast majority of sugars from the matrix of cranberries that are used to extract PACs,” states Dan Souza, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Naturex-DBS in Sangamore, Massachusetts.
Cranberry supplements are your best bet to avoid added sugar and carbohydrate. One study found that cranberry supplements can be cost-effective, low sugar and low-calorie option for helping reduce UTI risk.
The bottom line:
Most cranberry supplements are low in calories, carbohydrates, and sugar. Check your supplement label for this information.
Myth # 4: All cranberry supplements are equally effective.
All cranberry supplements are not the same and are not equally effective. Cranberry supplements vary widely in their content, labeling, and marketing claims. We know that the active components of cranberries are PACs. Even so, most cranberry supplements do not even list PAC content on their label. If a product does not list PAC content or does not provide 36 mg of PACs per daily dose, it probably will not be effective in decreasing your risk of UTIs.
Also, cranberry supplements can contain extra ingredients that you don’t need for effectiveness. A search of many cranberry supplement products revealed that some include cellulose, which is a binder in tablets. Cellulose may also bind to PACs, and reduce their effectiveness.
The bottom line:
For maximum effectiveness, choose a cranberry supplement with 36 mg of PACs per daily dose. Also, look for one without cellulose, which can decrease the bioavailability of the PACs.
Myth # 5: Cranberry supplements only need to be taken while you have a UTI.
Remember that cranberries cannot treat a UTI. If you have a UTI, visit your health care provider and follow their advice on to treat the infection. The only reliable treatment for a UTI you currently have – is an antibiotic.
If you have had a UTI, you have an increased risk of having another one. Taking a cranberry supplement each day can be an effective way to decrease your chance of having another infection.
The bottom line:
If you have a UTI, see your health care provider for treatment. You can begin taking a cranberry supplement along with an antibiotic to help prevent future UTIs. Continue to take the cranberry supplement for ongoing protection.
Cranberry and UTI Prevention: Key Takeaways
Cranberry and UTI prevention, while sometimes controversial, is well-researched for effectiveness. Dr. Betsy Foxman, the lead researcher on a study examining the effectiveness of cranberry supplements to prevent UTIs in this population, found that cranberry supplements alone reduced the occurrence of UTIs by 50%. She advises that antibiotics be saved for UTI treatment, rather than UTI prevention, to avoid antibiotic resistance.
Choose a cranberry supplement that is standardized to contain 36 mg PACs from whole cranberry fruit and is independently tested and certified by NSF® International for its purity and PAC content. NSF International certifies that products contain what they say they do and that they are free from contaminants. This certification can help you feel more confident in the safety and effectiveness of your cranberry supplement.
It is wise to find a supplement with low calorie, carbohydrate, and sugar content so you can fit this easily into your routine. Also, look for a product with no cellulose binders.
Legend has it that cranberry and UTI prevention go hand-in-hand, and this is one bit of folklore that rings true.
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