Oh the joys of being a woman: periods, monthly mood swings, lumpy breasts, and for many, recurrent Urinary Tract Infections! UTI’s account for nearly one in four bacterial infections in women, over 50% of us will develop a UTI in our lifetime. It has long been said that cranberries are good for UTIs but new research suggests that this may be little more than an old wives’ tale.
New Research on Cranberries for Prevention of UTI
New research, from Yale School of Medicine, shows that cranberry capsules did not help prevent UTI’s in a study of 147 older women in nursing homes (high risk for UTI). The study found that those taking cranberry capsules were just as likely to get a UTI as those taking placebo. Dr Nicolle concluded that "the continuing promotion of cranberry use to prevent recurrent UTI … seems inconsistent with the reality…(of the research)". While early research suggested a small benefit from taking cranberry products, this study supports the findings of a 2012 comprehensive review, by the Cochrane Group, which concluded that “cranberry juice cannot currently be recommended for the prevention of UTIs”.
"The continuing promotion of cranberry use to prevent recurrent UTI … seems inconsistent with the reality" Dr Nicolle
Who’s at risk of recurrent UTI?
- Young women: high frequency of sexual intercourse, maternal UTI’s, new sexual partner and use of spermicidal gels,
- Older women: problems with bladder emptying,
- Diabetes, immune, urinary tract or neurological disorders.
As with any illness prevention is better than cure. Good hydration is something that everyone needs to focus on to prevent UTIs and for general health. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends:
- Modify risk factors: include improve general health and reduce sexual intercourse and use of spermicidal gels.
- For women who have had two episodes in the previous year: six to twelve months of antibiotic prophylaxis.
- Investigations to exclude underlying cause.
- Postmenopausal women: topical oestrogen, however side effects are common.
In pregnant women: close medical supervision and antibiotic treatment are recommended.
Symptoms of UTI
Sometimes UTIs are silent but common symptoms include:
- Urgency to urinate or pain or burning while urinating.
- Frequent urination: small volumes.
- Abnormal urine: cloudy, red, dark or smelly.
- Pelvic or lower abdominal pain.
- Severe: pain in back or side, fever and or chills, nausea or vomiting. Seek urgent medical attention.
Urinary tract infections can lead to kidney problems or sepsis (blood infection) so should be taken seriously.
Basic medical advice:
- Increase your intake of water. Avoid caffeinated drinks especially coffee, alcohol, citrus drinks and soda.
- Empty bladder fully.
- If symptoms persist for over 24 hours OR if you feel unwell (see severe above), seek medical attention. Your doctor will take a urine sample. If tests indicate infection you will then be prescribed antibiotics.
If you are convinced that cranberry juice works for you and you love the taste then drink away! While many will be disappointed that cranberry products don’t prevent UTI, it allows a refocusing of efforts on what does work best and that’s good old water. Remember to take UTIs seriously and see your doctor if you have symptoms.
Please note: cranberry juice should be avoided for those on blood thinners, medications that affect the liver or those taking regular aspirin.