Cranberries don't help treat urinary infections

October 28, 2016 Providence Health Team

Drink cranberry juice because you like it, not because you think it’s helping to treat a urinary tract infection. That old folk remedy doesn’t hold true, researchers say.

“A person may, of course, choose to use cranberry juice or capsules for whatever reason she or he wishes,” say the editors of JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, in an editorial with the headline “Cranberry for Prevention of Urinary Tract Infection? Time to Move On.”

“However,” the editorial says, “clinicians should not be promoting cranberry use by suggesting that there is proven, or even possible, benefit.”

Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are relatively common and are often treated with antibiotics. But a myth has grown up around cranberries as a remedy, dating to at least the first half of the 20th century, the study’s authors said.

Study finds no difference in bacteria

Researchers said they wanted to learn if cranberry capsules could act as a “nonantimicrobial prevention strategy” for older women in nursing homes. So they looked for the presence of urinary tract bacteria in 185 female nursing home residents ages 65 and older. They compared results between women who were given cranberry capsules and those given a placebo.

Their finding: “There were no significant differences in the number of symptomatic UTIs.”

Added the JAMA editors: “Any continued promotion of the use of cranberry products seems to go beyond available scientific evidence and rational reasoning.”

Symptoms of a urinary tract infection

According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms vary according to age, gender and whether a catheter is present. But common symptoms include:

  • A frequent, intense urge to urinate
  • A painful, burning feeling in the bladder
  • Shakiness and muscle aches in older people
  • Urine that looks dark, cloudy or bloody and has a foul smell

Normally, a urinary tract infection does not cause a fever.

Resources for more information

If you experience any symptoms associated with UTIs, talk to your health care provider, who can provide a definitive diagnosis and suggest the best course of treatment. You can find a Providence provider in our directory.

You can read the study, “Effect of Cranberry Capsules on Bacteriuria Plus Pyuria Among Older Women in Nursing Homes,” at the JAMA website. The accompanying editorial by JAMA’s editors is nearby.

For general information about urinary tract infections, including causes, risk factors, symptoms and treatments, visit this page of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, “Urinary Tract Infection in Adults.”

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