No, Cranberry Juice Doesn’t Cure UTIs

UTI cures

Unsplash/Henk van der Steege

Real talk: Urinary tract infections are the worst. They’re majorly uncomfortable, surprisingly painful and embarrassing due to how many times they send us running to the bathroom in a given hour. Since approximately 60 percent of women will experience a UTI in their lifetimes, we all have our own “cure” we swear by. For many of us, it involves the tart little cranberry. But we have some unfortunate news for you: Scientifically speaking, cranberries cannot and do not cure UTIs.

Before you flip out, let’s take a look at the available research, shall we?

While cranberries cannot provide a successful cure, they can provide helpful preventative treatment. According to urologist Courtenay Moore, MD, there is an active ingredient in cranberries called A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs) that can prevent the adherence of bad bacteria to the bladder wall, especially E. coli. (E. coli is the most common cause of UTIs, btw.)

The only problem is that most OTC supplements and juice products don’t have enough of this active ingredient to successfully keep the unwanted bacteria at bay. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate cranberry supplements, so the actual dosing can be wildly inaccurate compared to what’s written on the label. And when it comes to juice, the majority of people drink cranberry juice cocktail, which is basically a boatload of sugar water with cranberry essence thrown in for good measure.

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A major Cochrane review published in 2012 stated that “cranberry juice does not appear to have a significant benefit in preventing UTIs and may be unacceptable to consume in the long term,” at which point medical professionals stopped recommending the berry to their patients as an at-home remedy.

The biggest risk posed by women relying solely on cranberries for UTI treatment is that if the “treatment” is ineffective and they sit with the infection for too long, it can worsen and even spread to the kidneys and bloodstream, at which point it becomes a life-threatening situation. So it’s not that cranberries are harmful — it’s that refusing any other treatment because you so adamantly believe in the berry’s power can lead you down a very scary path.

What does successfully cure a UTI? Antibiotics. Yep, those potent pills you can only get with a prescription are still the quickest and most effective way of tackling that infection. And if you’re someone who deals with recurrent UTIs and has started developing a resistance to these E. coli-fighting medications, then it’s time to have an important conversation with your doctor about future treatment options.

At the end of the day, it can’t hurt to down cranberry products to avoid the onset of a UTI. But if you’re officially in the weeds with a full-blown infection, put down the bottle of juice and head straight to your doctor’s office (or Urgent Care if you don’t have a primary care physician) and snag some antibiotics stat.