Urinary tract infections (UTI) affect up to 60% of women, resulting in bothersome symptoms and leading millions of people to seek medical care. Is it any wonder then that we would hope to find some way to prevent recurrence of these infections? For many, that hope has been placed in the tart little berry that makes its appearance each Thanksgiving. But how effective are cranberries at preventing infection? What about all of the cranberry extracts that we see?
First, lets talk about cranberry juice. Early studies indicated that cranberry juice was effective in preventing recurrence of urinary tract infections. A class of chemicals called proanthocyanidins found in cranberries are thought to keep E. coli (the most common cause of urinary tract infections) from binding to bladder cells. Many studies show a lot of people just don’t like the tart taste of cranberry juice and stop drinking it (sorry, the sugar-sweetened 10% juice cocktail won’t cut it here). When taken as a whole, it seems more likely that cranberry juice may have limited benefits in preventing urinary tract infections.
What about cranberry extracts? There are studies that show benefits from capsules containing extracted proanthocyanidins, especially in certain populations that are at high risk of getting new infections. Unfortunately, these extracts suffer from a lack of standard make-up, and the amount of proanthocyanidins from one supplement to another varies greatly. For example, one study found that the amount of proanthocyanidins across seven different cranberry extracts varied by 30 times. With so much variability, it is very difficult to know whether these capsules can prevent infections.
What to do? Well, there are studies ongoing for both cranberry juice and cranberry extract supplements that may find particular doses are effective, or that certain types of people may benefit, so stay tuned. There are other compounds such as d-mannose sugar that have proven to be useful as well.
Women with recurrent urinary tract infections may benefit from a medical evaluation to see if there is an underlying urologic problem that may be causing recurrent infections. In my practice, I often find issues such as complications from previous surgeries that can explain recurrent infections. It may even be that our overuse of antibiotics may precipitate infections by killing of normal, beneficial vaginal bacteria. There is at least some evidence that probiotics (essentially doses of health bacteria) may provide benefit, though these studies are ongoing.
Schedule an appointment with Dr. Goudelocke.