Health: true or false?

The truth: cranberry juice of little use in curing urinary tract infections

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 March, 2015, 6:17am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 April, 2015, 1:01pm

Can cranberry juice get rid of urinary tract infections?

The straight answer: No

The facts: Cranberry juice is often touted as a natural remedy for urinary tract infections (UTI) caused by E. coli bacteria. It is thought that cranberries contain a type of sugar that binds to the bacteria, reducing its ability to "stick" to the urethra wall.

The theory is that, if these bacteria are not latched on to anything, they are easier to "flush out" when we empty our bladder.

But there have not been many studies to support the effectiveness of cranberry juice in treating UTI, says Sheena Smith, a naturopath and clinical nutritionist from the Integrated Medicine Institute.

A plausible reason: it's hard to get the correct concentration of this naturally occurring, bacteria-binding sugar in juice form.

You would probably have to drink a lot of the stuff, and pure cranberry juice is not easy to drink because it is extremely tart.

"I would recommend drinking between 200ml and 500ml of cranberry juice a day as a preventive strategy against UTI caused by E. coli bacteria, but once the infection has taken hold, and if it is not E. coli invading, then the juice may be futile," says Smith.

"As cranberry juice is used to prevent the adherence of this type of bacteria to the urinary tract wall, once the bacteria have latched on, there is not much more the juice can do."

One thing to remember: cranberry juice is high in sugar. Smith says 250ml of pure cranberry juice has about 31 grams of sugar. Even the sugar-free variety has a lot of sugar.

A sugary diet is not only linked to long-term weight gain, it can also cause a series of inflammatory responses in the body, and suppress your immune system, which may worsen the infection.

Antibiotics can help clear UTIs, but what if you don't want to take them? Smith says there is a "very effective" supplement called D-Mannose.

"This is the actual active, therapeutic ingredient taken from cranberries. The good news is that it is safe to consume, and can be used by children and pregnant women, and also on an ongoing basis for those suffering from chronic UTI," she says.

Maintaining the healthy growth of good bacteria in your gut, and your bowel motions are also crucial, Smith says.

"Often, with the chronic use of antibiotics, stress and some vaginal washes and spermicides, the natural growth of good bacteria is compromised, allowing opportunistic bacteria to move into the urethra and cause issues," she says.

"There are specific probiotics available, like L. rhamnosus, L. reuteri, B. bifidus and B. lactis, for example, that are designed to survive the gastrointestinal tract and colonise the colon and vagina.

"They crowd out the other pathological organisms. If the E. coli form of bacterium is not present near the urethra, urinary tract infections are less likely.

"Supporting healthy gut flora might also help in aiding regular, well-formed bowel motions. Many infections are caused by stray bacteria - like E. coli - from the rectum moving to the urethra. This most commonly occurs when one is suffering from constipation or diarrhoea," Smith says.

Good daily habits are also necessary. For example, always wipe from front to back to minimise the transfer of bacteria from the rectum to the urethra.

To keep your immune system strong so that it can fight off the infection, it's important to eat well, exercise regularly and get enough sleep.