Women have been told for years that drinking cranberry juice can prevent and cure urinary tract infections (UTIs). But is it really true? Recent studies suggest it has limited benefits.

A UTI is an infection that occurs anywhere in the urinary tract. Infections can happen in the kidneys (where urine is created), the ureters (where urine travels from the kidneys), the bladder (where urine is stored) and the urethra (where urine leaves the body). These infections are all usually caused by bacteria.

UTIs are most common among women. In fact, experts believe as many as 60% of women will get a UTI in their lifetime compared to only 10% of men. The reason for that has to do with male and female anatomy, as women’s urethras as more susceptible to bacteria entering the urinary tract. Symptoms can include pelvic pain near your groin, urgent and frequent urination, cloudy or milky pee, a burning sensation when you pee, or lower back pain.

Why cranberry juice?

Cranberry juice, extracts and supplements are often recommended to prevent or cure UTIs. That’s because there are special ingredients in cranberries called A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs) that can prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.

In theory, this could proactively stop UTIs from happening or help you recover from one faster. But studies have found the benefits to be mixed. For example, one study found that women who drank cranberry juice experienced fewer UTIs compared to women in a control group who were given a placebo. But another study found that drinking cranberry juice made no difference. Experts believe that there may not be enough of the A-type proanthocyanidins for cranberry juice to be effective.

So what is the most effective way to treat a UTI?

Doctors typically prescribe oral antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter pain relievers to help with burning and discomfort while the antibiotics are still at work.

Home remedies

While home remedies for urinary tract infections shouldn’t replace treatment by a doctor, here are some things you can do to help prevent UTIs and improve your symptoms.

  • Good hygiene – The best way to avoid UTIs is to practice good hygiene and prevent bacteria from entering the urinary tract. Urinate often, and try to completely empty your bladder so bacteria can exit.
  • Stay hydrated – Drink lots of fluids, especially water, which will flush out the urinary tract system without irritating it.
  • Cranberry juice – While there’s no consensus on whether cranberry juice works on UTIs, most experts say it doesn’t hurt. Just make sure to drink it in moderation and choose 100% cranberry juice. Avoid cranberry cocktail, which is full of sugar and contains little actual cranberry.
  • Cranberry supplements – Since juice is high in sugar, recent guidelines from the Journal of Urology recommend taking cranberry supplements instead. There are a variety of products on the market, so check that it contains at least 36 mg of PACs (the beneficial ingredient).

When should I talk to a doctor about UTI symptoms?

If you’re experiencing pelvic symptoms or feel achy, tired and feverish, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor right away.

Did you know that you can get treatment for a urinary tract infection online 24/7 through Virtuwell? Our certified nurse practitioners will review your symptoms and send you a personalized treatment. Since most UTIs are treated with antibiotics, we’ll send a prescription to the pharmacy of your choice, and you’ll be feeling better in no time.