Does Cranberry Juice Actually Do Anything For UTIs?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) have a way of making their presence known. They make you run to the bathroom frequently. You could experience pain as you urinate. And Penn Medicine says the pain may be compounded by abdominal soreness or shooting pains in the back or sides. How instantly comforting it can be, then, to hear that drinking even two glasses of cranberry juice a day can bring relief from these symptoms — and maybe even prevent another occurrence?

If only this "cure-all" were fully embraced and endorsed by the medical community, for rarely does myth and science collide with such ferocity as it does with the link between cranberry juice and UTIs. At best, the science is mixed, the Cleveland Clinic says. Cranberry juice could help prevent and/or treat urinary tract infections. Then again, the juice may have no effect on them at all.

However, it won't hurt for you to give cranberry juice a try -– meaning, it won't cause any side effects. And you could be freed of some nasty side effects. In fact, many people have credited cranberry juice with resolving their symptoms and truncating the condition. Just be aware that this result could stem from the fact that they're drinking more liquids, which many doctors recommend to "flush" the infection from the system.

To stay on the better side of the cranberry juice and UTI debate, reach for cranberry juice with realistic expectations. Then, you'll set yourself up to be only pleasantly surprised.

Substance repels UTI bacteria

The link between urinary tract infections and cranberry juice is rooted in science. Cranberries contain chemical compounds called proanthocyanidins. And they could prevent the bacteria in UTIs from adhering to the urinary tract system, including the bladder (via Houston Methodist Hospital).

If the bacteria don't stick, it makes sense that it simply gets washed away during a trip to the bathroom. And since the bacteria is thwarted, the theory goes that the UTI is, too. When put to the test, however, this theory has shown mixed results. "Some studies show a small benefit, while most show none at all," the hospital says.

Large studies have shown that neither cranberry juice nor supplements "significantly reduce" the chance of infection. Meanwhile, smaller studies that showed some promise of prevention were, in the end, inconclusive. To add to the uncertainty, it remains unclear how much cranberry juice should be consumed or for how long.

In the end, cranberry juice and UTIs form an uncertain union. But if you feel hopeful, researchers and medical experts far and wide agree that cranberry juice is worth trying to treat or prevent a urinary tract infection. It could work for you. Just remember that nothing can substitute for a trip to your physician. You may need a prescription for an antibiotic if you have an infection (via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

What to try instead of cranberry juice

Cranberry juice may not behave like medicine, but it tastes like it to many people. And this is why plenty of people who aren't fond of the tart flavor absorb all this news by setting their sights on a cranberry supplement. They forget (or may not know that) supplements need to be taken with care, too, especially if they're taking other medications or are dealing with a chronic medical condition. Supplements are capable of spawning interactions, just like prescription medications.

Some people are prone to develop UTIs, particularly women. And some people are prone to develop concurrent infections. It's safe to say that if you've had one UTI, you certainly don't want another one. So if you don't have a natural craving for cranberry juice, make sure you drink plenty of liquids during the day to (you guessed it) do what you can to keep your urinary tract free of bacteria (via Houston Methodist Hospital). (If you're not sure you're drinking enough, don't wait until you're really thirsty. This means you may be getting dehydrated.)

Continue to keep your focus on your urinary tract health. Wipe from front to back (not the other way) and be sure to urinate after having sex to avoid infection. And if you use either a condom or diaphragm treated with spermicide, consider an alternative (via the Cleveland Clinic). The spermicide could attract bacteria that can lead to a UTI. And you're right to try to prevent one with all your might.