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4 Facts About Cranberry Juice For UTI: Biggest Scam Ever?

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My doc suggested that I drink cranberry juice for UTI prevention. I’m sure yours did too.

Somehow cranberry juice made its way into the mainstream practice of medicine while other more effective solutions, like D-Mannose and special probiotics, are still struggling to get well-deserved attention.

Many say that cranberry products (juice, pills) can prevent or even treat a UTI. But some researchers claim that drinking cranberry juice for UTI is useless.

“It is time to move on from cranberries,” Dr. Lindsay Nicolle, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, wrote in an editorial accompanying the new study.

“IT IS TIME TO MOVE ON FROM CRANBERRIES”

Let me share some facts and you can decide for yourself.

#1 Cranberry Juice For UTI? Follow The Money

Industry lobbyists are a powerful source of misinformation.

For example, some years ago scientists (who worked for gasoline and tobacco manufacturers) convinced the general public that lead and tobacco are safe. Perhaps it sounds like a bad joke now, but a century ago everybody, including the government believed them.

It is true, manufacturers spend money to manipulate the data so they can back up their marketing claims. Nothing new!

But who would lobby to promote cranberry juice for UTI?

Well, the global urinary tract infection treatment market could be up to US$ 9.42 Bn in revenues in 2017. As you could imagine, some companies would like to grab a piece of that pie.

For example, Ocean Spray Inc. is responsible for 75 percent of the cranberries sales worldwide.

In the year 2013, Ocean Spray posted record-high gross sales of $2.2 billion and net proceeds of $380 million. As you can see, they do have skin in the game and a marketing budget and means to promote cranberry juice.

#2 Research Is Flawed

Here is a great post by Julia Belluz writing for Vox.com who examines the validity of some “pro-cranberry” claims.

She found out that Ocean Spray Inc. funded one of the most widely popularized studies on cranberry juice and UTI prevention.

She points out three main flaws with this study:

1. Researchers emphasized their findings on “symptomatic UTIs” — meaning women who complained of UTI-like symptoms but didn’t actually have a positive urine culture.

However, she argues, If your urine culture is negative, you simply do not have an infection.

Therefore the scientists shouldn’t have counted the cases when symptoms were reported but the infection was not detected. But they did. This made the results look twice better.

2. Researchers counted the number of UTI episodes, instead of counting how many women remained healthy in each group.

This one is a bit hard to comprehend. See table 3 with highlighted numbers.

Simply put, if they’d use the numbers from the first line they would show only 9% difference between the control and cranberry juice groups instead of 31%.

Ocean Spray study table

Ocean Spray study about cranberry juice for UTI: they should have used the top row for to demonstrate the results, but instead, the whole number of incidents per group was counted

3. The last point is that even after massaging the data, the results of the research are laughable in absolute terms.

According to the research, “Drinking cranberry juice every day for 3.2 years averted one symptomatic UTI (and remember, that means not necessarily one that’s confirmed through a lab test)” says Julia Belluz.

#3 Cranberry Juice Helps E. coli, Not You

If you tried cranberry juice for UTI and it helped, but then you have suddenly felt even worse, here is a theory that could explain why.

Proanthocyanidin is the compound in cranberries that in high concentrations prevents bacteria from sticking to the bladder. Therefore, cranberries could provide an anti-adhesion effect on E.coli, but at the same time, the juice also makes your urine acidic.

E. coli strives in the acidic environment and will start multiplying much faster than in normal conditions (read a post about how diet affects your bladder pH).

Some believe that the anti-adhesion effect from cranberry could be simply canceled by the increased acidity of the bladder and therefore make your infection even worse.

Bottom line, do not drink cranberry juice for UTI treatment.

#4 More Research On Cranberry Juice for UTI

To make matters more complicated, PubMed library has more than 83 research papers published on the topic of cranberry juice for UTI. Some articles are supporting health claims, others are not.

Why such a difference in opinions?

A group of researchers decided to address the dilemma. They have screened 83 records in PubMed and reviewed 34 clinical studies about cranberry and UTI.

This is what they’ve concluded: “consideration should be given to completion of additional research on cranberries for UTI prevention among women with rUTIs”. Which in layman terms means “we can’t recommend you anything”.  Not very conclusive after all.

Bottom line: if you believe cranberries are helping, you can keep using them but follow these rules:

  • Do not spend too much money
  • Go for cranberry products with no sugar and
  • Do not attempt to treat an existing infection with cranberry juice
  • Consider adding probiotics and D-mannose to prevent UTIs naturally
  • Know what you are treating: Simply “UTI” is not a real diagnosis. 

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