Cranberries are tart berries that are considered to be superfruits. They pack a potent punch of antioxidants, organic and fatty acids, fiber, and proteins, and all those beneficial traits can be applied to staving off and reducing UTIs.
There are lots of ways to add cranberries to your diet, and you don’t need to wait for the holidays to do it.
UTIs are a bit of a taboo topic. They can be painful and embarrassing, waking you up at night or making you nervous to leave home. And if you have one, you know it without a doubt: It’s a urinary tract infection.
Ranked as the second most common infection worldwide, urinary tract infections (UTIs) will, at some point, affect roughly 50 percent of women. The overwhelming majority of infections — between 65 percent and 85 percent—occur when E. coli bacteria find their way into the urinary tract, attach to the tract wall, and multiply.
Traditionally, an antibiotic regimen is the go-to therapy, but mounting concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria have prompted patients and doctors alike to search for alternative sources of relief.
Personalization is an expanding trend in medicine, which fits well with the majority of alternative treatments—they work best when they can be tailored to the patient. Cranberry-based products are no different, and supplement formulations exist to address the specific needs of both men and women.
Cranberries contain anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins (PAC), which are tannins that function as a natural defense system against microbes. One theory that explains how cranberries could fight off UTIs is that PAC might help prevent UTI-causing bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder and other urinary tract linings. If adherence to the urinary tract tissue is avoided, bacteria won’t have the chance to cause infection.
Supplements Vs. Cranberry Juice
It is widely considered that cranberry supplements for UTI infections are superior to cranberry juice (or other food forms of cranberry). You would need an exorbitant amount of cranberry juice to reap the benefits in fighting infection. A single cranberry capsule provides the equivalent of eight ounces of cranberry juice.
Cranberries for Women
About 50 percent of women will experience a UTI, and nearly one-third of these women will suffer from recurrent infections. Women fall into this category if they develop three or more UTIs within a 12-month period.
Based on seven clinical trials, including one gold-standard trial that enlisted 176 18- to 60-year-old women, investigators determined that daily 500-mg doses of a cranberry supplement, called Pacran by Naturex, led to a 58-percent reduction in UTI recurrence and delayed the appearance of the first UTI when compared to a placebo. Cranberry works because it makes it harder for E. coli bacteria to stick to the urinary tract wall.
To get these results, researchers only included participants who had histories of recurrent UTIs and who were neither pregnant nor breastfeeding. Additionally, the studies were randomized and double-blind; half the women received the cranberry supplement, and half received a placebo.
Cranberries for Men
Men can also receive benefits from cranberries. More than 50 percent of 50-year-olds and 80 percent of 70-yearolds develop an enlarged prostate, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). With BPH comes lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) that can cause either an overactive or underactive bladder. The signs of an overactive bladder include frequent urination or the urge to urinate, urge incontinence, and urination during sleep. Signs of an underactive bladder include hesitation, weak stream, or the inability to urinate. Men who already have these symptoms can expect them to worsen as they age.
Clinical studies have proven that cranberry supplements can improve LUTS. Investigators enrolled 121 45- to 70-year-old men with moderate bladder symptoms into a double-blind, randomized trial. Using the Flowens supplement by Naturex, the researchers gave one-third a 250-mg daily dose, another third a 500-mg daily dose, and the last third a placebo.
The men, who had also received no treatment for prostate cancer during the previous six months, had the severity of their LUTS levels tested at the beginning of the study, at 90 days, and at 180 days. Their symptom severity and the impact on their quality of life were measured using the International Prostate Symptoms Score questionnaire—a group of questions widely considered to be the best assessment tool for BPH-related LUTS.
Based on data collection, 37 percent of men saw symptom improvement within a month, and 7 percent saw benefits after the first week. And, 96 percent of men tolerated their daily doses well.
Results showed that the men who took the 250-mg daily dose experienced a 25-percent improvement in their symptoms when compared to the placebo or their baseline levels. Men on the 500-mg daily dose fared even better—they saw a 38-percent improvement over the placebo group and a 44-percent reduction over their baseline measurement.
The effect was also long-lasting: 71 percent of men taking the 500-mg daily dose reported their quality of life had significantly improved, 52 percent said they urinated less frequently during the day, 63 percent experienced a reduction in urination during sleep, and 48 percent felt a drop in the feeling that they never emptied their bladder after urinating.
While it’s clear that antibiotic regimens are effective in treating an active UTI, they should not be used as a preventive measure, and waiting to treat an infection can drastically impact daily activities and life quality. Fortunately, to fight against the development of a UTI or to get relief from symptoms associated with an infection, it’s clear the natural powers of the cranberry and cranberry-based products are both safe and successful.
Hisano M, Bruschini H, Nicodemo AC, Srougi M. Cranberries and lower urinary tract infection prevention. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2012;67(6):661-8. doi: 10.6061/clinics/2012(06)18. PMID: 22760907; PMCID: PMC3370320.