Along with the pleasantries of family and friends, crisp air and holiday reruns, the holidays are made all the better by the return of cranberry to the dining table. With a zestful balance of sour and sweet, cranberry is a delightful dish as a Thanksgiving side, sweet treat and of course, the critical ingredient for a turkey sandwich. Loaded with healthful nutrients, cranberry has a lot to offer. However, there is one thing that you should not look to cranberry for: relief from urinary tract infections.
For years and years, people have consumed cranberry and derived products hoping that the fruit would prevent or cure them of a UTI, a bacterial infection that can cause pelvic pain and frequent urination, among other symptoms. But the science has proven that this folk remedy is a false one.
As a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at Kaiser Permanente Washington, I encounter this misunderstanding all the time. Whether it’s something they hear from friends, family, media or marketing schemes, many people still think that these products will help them beat infections. There is even a sizable market of cranberry-based products that are marketed to those seeking relief from UTIs. Don’t buy it.
Now to be clear, there is nothing wrong with cranberries. They are tasty and contain healthful antioxidants and nutrients. But it’s no UTI cure.
What you need to know about UTIs:
UTIs are uncomfortable to discuss, and even more uncomfortable to get. UTIs occur when bacteria infect the urinary tract. Symptoms include feeling the need to urinate despite having an empty bladder, pain or burning while peeing, frequent urination, low fever and cloudy or bloody urine. The body can sometimes flush out an infection on its own, but an infection may cause discomfort and could spread to the kidneys, becoming serious.
Both sexes can get UTIs, but they are far more common in women. Older adults are especially at risk of infection, with UTIs being the most frequently diagnosed infection in long-term care residents.
What works and what doesn’t, for treating UTIs:
To treat infections, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics. Some providers advise taking a non-prescription medication for the discomfort.
The best thing that you can do if you suspect a UTI is to talk to your doctor and devise a treatment plan together. Your doctor will not tell you to chug cranberry juice or buy cranberry products.
Not only will cranberry not help with a UTI infection, it can also pose a risk for people taking blood-thinners, as cranberry can interact with the medication.
I offer my patients these tips on how to prevent UTIs:
• Drink more water and other liquids may help.
• When you urinate, take time to empty your bladder as much as possible.
• Practice good hygiene.
In some cases, I recommend a non-antibiotic treatment for women, estriol vaginal cream, which when prescribed appropriately, can help prevent bacteriuria and recurrent UTI in menopausal patients.
Above all, talk to your doctor if you think you may have a UTI or if you get frequent UTIs.
To recap: When it comes to cranberry, its place is as a tasty dish, not a remedy for UTIs.
Dr. Adrianne Wesol, MD, is a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology for Kaiser Permanente, which has offices in Federal Way. She is also the Capitol Hill Ambulatory Surgery Center chief.