Urinary tract infections are common and painful: Nearly half of all women will experience a UTI in their lifetime. This creates a prime market for health product manufacturers, and for years, people have purchased cranberry products (e.g. juice, capsules, powder) to prevent and treat UTIs.
The problem is, these products don’t work. Even worse, cranberry products taken along with certain other medications could pose a health risk.
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. They won’t, and there is overwhelming evidence that you should save your money for something else.
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. Numerous studies have found no evidence that cranberry helps treat UTIs: not cranberry juice, not cranberry supplements — not cranberry, period.
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.
Now to be clear, there is nothing wrong with cranberries. They are tasty and contain healthful antioxidants and nutrients. So feel free to enjoy cranberries and cranberry juice. But don’t count on it to cure your UTI.
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.
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.