Cranberries are a familiar side dish at Thanksgiving, and most are familiar with the sweetened beverage, cranberry juice cocktail. But what do these red berries have to do with urinary tract infections (UTIs)? And what are some of the cranberry extract benefits for women with UTIs?
Before we dive into cranberry extract benefits, let’s answer a few questions about UTIs.
What is a UTI?
According to the National Library of Medicine, a UTI is an infection of any part of your urinary tract including your urethra, bladder, ureters or kidneys. Your urinary system is set up to ward off infections by creating a strong flow of urine out of the body. This helps to push potential invading bacteria out of the urinary tract. But despite your best efforts to avoid infection, sometimes bacteria creep into the bladder and stick around.
Why are women more at risk for UTIs than men?
Bacteria from the skin around your urinary and vaginal opening are the main cause of a UTI. Women are four times as likely as men to get a UTI because they have a shorter urethra. Plus, the female urethra is closer to the rectum where the bacteria originate. About 50-60% of women report having a UTI at least once in their lifetime.
For women, wiping from front to back is recommended to avoid introducing bacteria into the urethra. Urine often flushes out bacteria that have entered the urethra. Despite this, sometimes the bacteria persist and an infection can result.
What are some possible UTI risk factors?
Dr. Martha Boone, a board-certified urologist in Alpharetta, Georgia says that women need to take a minute to be sure that they’ve completely emptied their bladders. Dr. Boone says that many women “are just not giving themselves enough time. People need to sit for a minute and let their pelvic floor muscles fully relax.”
Sexually active women may be more prone to UTIs since the bacteria present outside the urethra may be pushed into the urethra during sex. One way to flush out any stray bacteria that have entered the urinary tract is to urinate right after sex.
Menopausal women are also more likely to experience UTIs than other women. Estrogen levels decline after menopause. Lower levels of estrogen can potentially change your vaginal pH, which may contribute to a higher risk of UTIs.
Pregnant women who experience a UTI are more likely to have the UTI progress to a kidney infection. Kidney infections during pregnancy can create a greater risk for premature birth. Health care professionals routinely test pregnant women for bacteria in the urine because of these risks.
Could I have a UTI?
If you’ve had a UTI before, you probably know the signs. You might feel pressure in your lower abdomen, have back pain, burning during urination, or an urgent need to urinate. Your urine could have a reddish color or an odor, or you might feel tired, shaky and feverish. However, some people experience no symptoms at all and only discover that they have a UTI from a screening urinalysis at a doctor’s visit. Either way, once you think you have an infection, it’s important to follow the advice of your healthcare provider right away. Keep in mind, no study has ever shown that cranberries can cure a UTI that has already started.
Cranberry and UTIs
Now that we know a bit about UTIs and why women are at an increased risk, let’s answer a few questions about how cranberry extract benefits women with UTIs.
What are the cranberry extract benefits for my urinary tract?
Cranberries have long been touted as a go-to remedy for UTIs. Research supports the benefit of compounds found in cranberries, known as proanthocyanidins (PACs), for reducing the risk of getting a UTI. If given the chance, bacteria that enter the urinary tract will attach themselves to the inside surface of the bladder wall.
Cranberry PACs can actually stop the bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall, and they won’t hang around long enough to cause an infection.
Lead cranberry researcher Amy Howell, Ph.D. first discovered cranberry PACs. Only A-type PACs found in cranberries have proven bacterial anti-adhesion activity (AAA). Foods such as apples, grapes, green tea, and chocolate also contain PACs but they are B-type PACs. Dr. Howell determined that these A-type PACs could bind to and prevent the adhesion of E. coli bacteria, the most common bacteria that cause a UTI. When the E. coli bacteria bind to PACs, it is easier for them to be flushed out in the urine before a UTI can start.
Dr. Boone recommends taking a supplement that contains 36 mg PACs from whole cranberry fruit. She states, “I tell my patients to take one at night so that for an 8-hour period when they are sleeping and urine is sitting in their bladder, the [cranberry] is most effective.”
Does cranberry juice have the same benefits of cranberry extract?
It is fine to try to use cranberry juice or other cranberry foods to prevent UTIs. However, this is a difficult habit to maintain every day. For example, you would need to consume 8-10 ounces of 27% cranberry juice, 1 ½ cups fresh cranberries, ½ cup cranberry sauce or 1 ounce sweetened dried cranberries daily. So if you are on vacation or it’s the holidays and you have special meals planned, you would need to maintain your daily habit of cranberry foods or drink to give your body 36 mg PACs. Many folks find it easier to rely on a calorie-free, sugar-free cranberry supplement to help ward off a UTI.
What can I do to prevent or treat a UTI?
If you have a UTI be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s advice on how to treat it. Consider taking a supplement with 36 mg of PACs from whole cranberry fruit to help fend off infections. Finally, make time to take care of yourself. See your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of a UTI. Take an extra 30 seconds in the bathroom to fully empty your bladder. Wipe from front to back, you know the drill. Taking care of yourself can help prevent a UTI before it even begins.
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