SEATTLE — Experts at Kaiser Permanente say it is a myth that cranberry products (i.e. capsules, powder, or juice) are a natural way to prevent and treat urinary tract infections (or UTIs). And, patients taking blood-thinning medications such as warfarin or aspirin, or medications that affect the liver, should avoid cranberry products altogether.
“The evidence has been out for awhile now. It is time to step away from the cranberries,” said Adrianne Wesol, MD, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at Kaiser Permanente Washington. “Science has proven that cranberry products don’t have a statistical impact on treating UTIs, and, these products can be harmful to patients also on blood thinners or any other medication affecting the liver.”
In a 2012 study, nursing home residents who took high-potency cranberry capsules did not have fewer episodes of urinary tract infection than those taking a placebo, researchers found. Yet cranberries continue to be suggested as an alternative treatment for urinary tract infections in a number of places, including popular women’s websites.
Do we really need to talk about UTIs?
UTIs plague women of all ages. Men become increasingly susceptible to the infections as they age. UTIs are the most commonly diagnosed infection in older female patients, including those who live in nursing homes. In older women, the hypoestrogenic (estrogen deficient) state can lead to frequent urinary tract infections.
“It’s not a fun topic to discuss, but impacts so many people,” Dr. Wesol said. “And with so many people still using ineffective treatments, we need to be talking about this. Cranberry juice is delicious and a good source of vitamin C, but also can be harmful to some patients.”
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, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but an infection may cause discomfort and could spread to the kidneys, becoming serious.
To treat infections, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics. Yet the germs causing these infections are becoming less susceptible to treatment, and infections do not always go away easily.
Searching for an alternative treatment
Medical experts have been exploring other methods of preventing a urinary tract infection. For a long time, cranberries were believed to hold preventive benefits. But now that science has ruled this out, what else can sufferers do?
Prevention tips for men and women:
- Drinking more water and other liquids may help
- When you urinate, take time to empty your bladder as completely as possible
- Practice good hygiene
Dr. Wesol also recommends a non-antibiotic treatment for women, estriol vaginal cream, which has clinical evidence showing that it can help prevent bacteria in the urine and recurrent UTI in menopausal patients.
Above all, Dr. Wesol recommends talking to your doctor if you think you may have a UTI or if you get frequent UTIs.
About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 11.8 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/share.