If you get frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs), you’ve probably been told to drink cranberry juice and that it’s effective at preventing and treating these uncomfortable infections.

But is cranberry juice truly helpful for people with UTIs? And does adding cranberry juice to your diet help reduce the risk of a UTI?

This article explains everything you need to know about cranberry juice and UTIs to help you separate the myths from the science.

Cranberry juice and UTIs: myth vs. science

UTIs are a common bacterial infection, especially among women.

In fact, 50% of women, compared with 12% of men, will develop a UTI in their lifetime. What’s more, up to 30% of young women have recurrent UTIs, which can significantly affect their quality of life.

In addition to medications like antibiotics, many people use natural remedies for UTI prevention and treatment.

Cranberry juice and cranberry juice supplements are perhaps the most popular natural treatments for UTIs.

Cranberries contain compounds such as phenolic acids and flavonoids, which may help treat and prevent UTIs.

These compounds may help :

  • interfere with the ability of bacteria to stick to the lining of the urinary tract
  • reduce inflammation
  • modulate gut bacteria
  • decrease the number of bacteria held in “reservoirs” in the bladder and gastrointestinal tracts that can lead to UTIs

Nevertheless, you may wonder whether cranberry juice is effective at preventing and treating UTIs.

May help prevent UTIs in some people

Some research suggests that cranberry juice and cranberry supplements may reduce the risk of UTIs in certain populations.

One review of 7 high quality studies that included 1,498 healthy women found that taking cranberry juice and cranberry supplements reduced the risk of UTI recurrence by 26%.

Another review concluded that cranberry products seem to prevent UTIs in women, but that they aren’t helpful for this purpose among people who are at an increased risk of contracting UTIs.

Findings from other studies have also suggested that cranberry products, including cranberry juice, may help prevent UTIs from coming back in a few different populations, including:

  • women with a history of UTIs
  • older adults in nursing homes
  • otherwise healthy children

Some findings also suggest cranberry juice capsules may help reduce UTIs in women who’ve undergone gynecological surgeries during which a catheter was placed in their urethra to empty their bladder.

It’s important to note that cranberry extract, which is different from cranberry juice, has more evidence supporting its ability to help prevent UTIs from recurring in certain populations.

This is because cranberry supplements are a more concentrated source of the active compounds thought to be helpful in UTI treatment.

One recent study among 145 healthy women with a history of or recurrent UTIs examined the effects of taking cranberry proanthocyanidins daily. Those who took the high dosage received 18.5 mg of cranberry proanthocyanidin extract twice a day for 24 weeks.

Proanthocyanidins are a type of polyphenol compound that is naturally concentrated in cranberries.

The study found that the women who experienced fewer than 5 UTIs per year had a 43% decrease in UTIs when they took the high dosage, compared with those who took a control dose of 1 mg twice daily.

However, the study found that taking this high dose did not result in a significant reduction in UTIs for the overall group of adult women who had recurring urinary tract infections. The effect was only significant among those who had UTIs less often.

While some studies suggest that cranberry products like juice and extract may help reduce UTI recurrence in some people, researchers still aren’t exactly sure which components of cranberries are responsible for their possible protective effects against UTIs.

What’s more, it’s thought that genetics, immune health, metabolism, and differences in gut bacteria may influence the effectiveness of cranberry products against UTIs. In other words, they may be more effective in some people than others .

Plus, not all studies have found cranberry treatment helpful for UTI prevention. Researchers acknowledge that larger, high quality studies are needed to better understand how cranberry products affect urinary tract health.

Probably not a great treatment for active UTIs

While cranberry products help protect against UTI recurrence in some people, evidence supporting the use of cranberry juice and cranberry juice products for improving symptoms in people who have active UTIs is weak.

One review that included three high quality studies concluded that, overall, there wasn’t enough evidence to show that cranberry extract helps treat active UTIs.

Another study that included 46 women found that taking cranberry capsules both alone and when combined with antibiotics may help reduce the need for antibiotic use and improve certain UTI-related symptoms in women with active UTIs.

It’s important to note that this was a feasibility study with 46 participants, designed to assess whether a larger scale study would be feasible. Thus, its results may not be as robust as the results of a larger, high quality study.

Some women in the study noted that taking the cranberry supplements helped reduce antibiotic use and helped “clear the infection” more quickly than antibiotics alone, while others reported no improvement when they took the cranberry supplements.

It’s important to note that most available research focuses on using cranberry products to prevent UTIs, not treat active infections.

Currently, there’s not enough evidence to suggest that cranberry products are effective at reducing UTI symptoms or speeding recovery from active UTIs.

More high quality research is needed to determine whether cranberry products like cranberry juice and cranberry capsules may help treat active UTIs.

How much to take

According to research findings, if you’re using cranberry juice to help prevent a UTI from coming back, a dose of 8–10 ounces (240–300 mL) per day may be most effective.

A 2016 high quality study looked at the effects of taking cranberry juice daily in 373 women with a history of recent UTI. It found that those who drank 8 ounces (240 mL) of cranberry juice daily for 24 weeks had fewer UTIs than those in a placebo group.

The women in the cranberry group experienced a total of 39 diagnosed UTIs, while the women in the placebo group experienced a total of 67 diagnosed UTIs.

Cranberry supplement dosing varies depending on the ingredients. Research has shown that doses of cranberry extract ranging from 200–500 mg per day may reduce UTI recurrence in some people.

There are many types of cranberry supplements on the market, so it’s important to read the directions on your specific product for dosing recommendations.

If you experience frequent UTIs and are interested in using cranberry juice or cranberry supplements to help prevent them, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional first.

Although some evidence does suggest cranberry may help prevent UTIs from coming back in some people, other treatments may be more effective and appropriate.

Other natural UTI remedies

If you get frequent UTIs and are interested in natural ways to prevent them from coming back, try out some of these evidence-based tips:

  • Stay hydrated. Some studies have shown that drinking at least 6–8 cups (1.5–2 liters) of water per day may protect against UTI recurrence in certain people.
  • Lower your intake of certain foods and beverages. Diets high in soda, coffee, alcohol, artificially sweetened beverages, and animal proteins may increase UTI risk and aggravate symptoms. However, more research in this area is needed.
  • Wipe front to back. For women, wiping front to back, rather than back to front, after using the toilet may help reduce UTI risk.
  • Don’t delay urination. Delayed voiding, or waiting to pee, is associated with an increased risk of recurrent UTIs in women. Not urinating frequently enough can cause bacteria to accumulate inside the urinary tract.
  • Become more active and maintain a healthy body weight. A higher weight and being sedentary are linked to higher rates of recurrent UTIs. Maintaining a healthy body weight and getting enough physical activity (if you’re able) may reduce your risk.
  • Other potentially helpful supplements and treatments. Other supplements like D-mannose, certain probiotic strains, and cranberry products combined with propolis, as well as vaccines and immunomodulating agents may be an option for some people.

If you think you have a UTI, see a healthcare professional. UTIs can become serious life threatening infections.

If you get frequent UTIs, work with a trusted healthcare professional to come up with a treatment plan based on your specific health needs.

The bottom line

Research shows that cranberry products like cranberry juice and cranberry extract supplements may reduce the risk of UTI recurrence in some people. Yet, there’s not enough evidence to suggest these products help treat an existing UTI.

If you get frequent UTIs and want to prevent them from coming back, work with your healthcare professional to come up with a plan, which may include taking supplements and other lifestyle modifications.

Source: Healthline