How should UTIs be treated? (Hint: It’s not with cranberry)

For ages, people have turned to cranberry as a natural remedy for urinary tract infections. The belief was that products such as cranberry juice would prevent bacteria from infecting the tract between the kidney and urethra, providing relief from the burning and discomfort of these common infections. But the truth is out; cranberry is no cure for UTIs.

Given how common UTIs are—nearly half of all women will experience one in their lifetime—companies seized on the perceived remedial capabilities of cranberry for UTIs, and thus was born a market of all kinds of cranberry products. Thus, this folk medicine remedy has been tough to shake. As a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at Kaiser Permanente Washington, I often have patients who hold this misconception.

I will tell you what I tell them: Cranberries are great, but not for treating UTIs. In fact, they can even be harmful for people taking certain medications.


What is a UTI?


UTIs are really uncomfortable and really common, especially for women and older adults. They occur when bacteria cause an infection in the urinary tract, creating symptoms that include frequent urination and significant pain when doing so. The body can sometimes flush out an infection on its own, but some serious cases can spread to the kidneys.

UTIs are one of the most commonly diagnosed infections in older adults, but can affect a wide range of ages. In long-term care settings, UTIs are the most frequently diagnosed infection. While men can get UTIs, they are most prevalent in women.


How should UTIs be treated? (Hint: Not cranberry)


To treat infections, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics. In some cases, doctors may advise rest and a non-prescription medicine for pain.

Doctors do not prescribe cranberry products, because they know there is no science supporting it.  Studies have overwhelmingly found no evidence that cranberry helps treat UTIs. I repeat: There is no evidence that cranberry products help treat UTIs.

An additional concern arises for people taking blood-thinners, a medication that can be affected when consumed along with cranberry products.

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 patients (women and men) these tips that can help 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, who wrote this article, is an obstetrician-gynecologist and serves as the OBGYN Department chief at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle and the chief of staff for the Kaiser Capitol Hill Hospital.