urinary tract infection

Does cranberry juice help prevent UTIs?

If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), then you’ve undoubtedly heard that you should drink cranberry juice. You don’t ever want to feel that fire in your bladder again. On the other hand, you doubt your trainer (or dentist, for that matter) would be thrilled about your refrigerator being packed with fruit juice. So should you swap out your usual water for some of the red stuff?

Most women have had at least one urinary infection during their lifetime, and many women endure several of them. The risk is greater if you’re sexually active, since bacteria get jostled around down there; post-menopausal, since the vagina loses some of its protective lubricant; and/or diabetic, since the urine is chock full of sugar, which bacteria love. Spermicide use also increases the risk of urinary tract infections. Given this constant background risk, it’s no wonder that women are eager for a way to prevent infections.

Indeed, there’s some evidence that cranberry juice has chemicals that prevent bacteria from attaching to your bladder. Unfortunately, controlled experiments in humans have failed to show any consistent clinical benefit, either from cranberry juice or capsules of juice extract.

Plus, cranberry juice isn’t exactly calorie-free, and it may increase acid reflux. There’s nothing wrong with drinking cranberry juice on occasion — like any other juice — but we wouldn’t recommend stocking up for the sake of your bladder.

If you do experience frequent urinary tract infections, a better option may be preventative doses of an antibiotic, like penicillin. You can take a dose either right after sex or, if infections are really frequent, once per day. Speak to your doctor. Also don’t forget the basics, like urinating right after sex.

This article was adapted from Am I Dying?!: A Complete Guide to Your Symptoms – and What To Do Next

Christopher Kelly, M.D., M.S.

Christopher Rehbeck Kelly, M.D., M.S., is a cardiologist at North Carolina Heart and Vascular and UNC Rex Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Marc Eisenberg, M.D., F.A.C.C.

Marc Sabin Eisenberg, M.D., F.A.C.C., is an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and an attending cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.