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Can Cranberry Juice Prevent UTIs?

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on February 5, 2023

Urinary tract infections (or UTIs) are justly feared by people of any gender and most adult age brackets. They are caused when bacteria adheres to the bladder wall and are accompanied by some of the most disconcerting symptoms that most people will ever witness, including bloody urine. Although they can be easily cured, they remain unpleasant in the extreme and anyone with even the hint of one should be looking for a way to get rid of it in a hurry. 


Such intent on finding a cure can lead people to believe in all manner of baseless home remedies. While often made of outright fabrications that range from pointless to dangerous, there does arise the occasional home remedy that is borne out by credible medical research.


In the case of UTIs, one such remedy that has been noted by researchers as being effective is to have the patient consume quantities of cranberry juice. This tart treat not only boosts your morale and blood sugar but also helps to foil a UTI in roughly 60% of women studied by the American Urological Association. 

When a UTI begins, it starts out as just a minor adhesion of bacteria to the cell walls inside the bladder. These microorganisms begin to reproduce and eventually create a much larger infection, especially if the bacteria begin to migrate into the much narrower tubes (the ureters) or the sensitive kidneys. Without host tissue to latch onto, the bacteria will quickly be ejected into the bloodstream.


Cranberries address that weakness in particular, producing a chemical reaction in the body that makes the cell walls immune to the bacteria’s biochemical adhesives.

A study by the Cleveland Health Board found that cranberries both contain the chemical A-type proanthocyanidins and cause the body to produce it, making them an effective countermeasure against UTIs. 


Several researchers have voiced their support for this course of action, albeit as a stopgap until the patient can be given the medical care they need for the infection. Others, however, have attacked the research as not being scientifically controlled or being performed on too small of a test group size. Dr. Timothy Boone, vice dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Houston, has put forward another objection to the use of cranberry juice as a widespread treatment; the experiment was conducted with concentrated cranberry essence pills intended to have an immediate and serious effect. 


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These doses contain only cranberry essence and are available as a supplement. However, consumers may think that they can buy a bottle of cranberry juice off the shelf to treat their UTI. While this may help a bit, it will not, warns Boone, be sufficient to treat a full-blown UTI–the chemical levels needed are simply not high enough in bottled cranberry juice to have any real effect on UTIs, and one would need to imbibe cranberry extract directly for even similar results. 


Cranberry juice has natural antibacterial effects on our bodies and may be helpful to add to the diet of someone who tends to have chronic UTIs. Cranberry concentrate or supplements may be helpful to someone with a mild infection or to avoid chronic infection. It may even be helpful to use until someone can get to the doctor, but in cases of serious infection, cranberry juice or supplements are no match for antibiotics.

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