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Can Cranberry Juice Treat Bladder Infections?

How could any bacteria cause a bladder infection without just getting flushed away—literally? Bladder infections may make sense if you’re not drinking enough or if you leave behind a stagnant pool because you can’t empty completely (like in men with enlarged prostates).  However, in most people there should be a constant flow of water. The way bladder infection-causing E. coli hold on is that they evolved these finger-like projections (fimbrae) they can use to stick to the walls of the bladder, so they don’t get washed away.

Almost 30 years ago, it was demonstrated that if you drip cranberry juice on E. coli, their fimbrae aren’t able to stick as well. Grape juice doesn’t work, nor does orange or apple juice. Even white cranberry juice made from unripened berries doesn’t work, suggesting that it’s one of the red phytonutrients that’s the active ingredient. For more on these natural plant compunds, see Phytochemicals: The Nutrition Facts Missing From the Label and for those doubting the power of plants, Power Plants.

Even if it works in a petri dish, though, we don’t pee cranberry juice. How do we know that the anti-adherence phytonutrients are even absorbed through the gut and make it into the bladder? Subsequent studies have shown that if you drip the urine of someone who drank cranberry juice onto E. coli, they don’t stick as well either. Now we’re getting somewhere. If you click the above video, you can see the stickiness of strains of E. coli wading in urine from someone drinking water, and the stickiness in the urine of someone drinking cranberry juice. Within hours of consumption there’s a drop in E. coli adherence that appears to last throughout much of the day. So might cranberries really help prevent bladder infections?

The best way to prevent infections is to not get infected in the first place, which may involve the avoidance of chicken so you’re not constantly re-infecting yourself (see my last video Avoiding Chicken to Avoid Bladder Infections).

If that doesn’t work, however—if your gut remains stubbornly colonized with these bad bladder bugs—various tested cranberry products appear to reduce the recurrence of bladder infections by about 35 percent. Not as effective as antibiotics, but cranberry juice doesn’t foster antibiotic resistance and has fewer side effects.

There’s no good evidence to suggest cranberries are an effective treatment, though, which makes sense. Cranberries prevent the initial adherence, but that occurs at the start of the infection. When the infection is present and already stuck, there’s no clinical data to suggest that cranberries are effective in the treatment of urinary tract infections, meaning it doesn’t work better than placebo—but placebos work! For example, ibuprofen seems to work just as well as antibiotics for the treatment of uncomplicated urinary tract infections.

Some people really do need antibiotics—pregnant women, children, men, those with kidney infections, and systemic symptoms like nausea and vomiting. For most healthy women, though, bladder infections just go away on their own without antibiotics. Women who drink cranberry juice and have their symptoms disappear may falsely attribute their recovery to the juice. However, when it comes to most UTIs, nothing works–as in nothing, a sugar pill, actually works!

I discuss the controversy around doctors giving placebos in The Lie That Heals: Should Doctors Give Placebos?

What else can cranberries do? Check out my recent videos Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better? and Cranberries Versus Cancer.

How can you consume cranberries palatably? Check out my recipe for Pink Juice with Green Foam.

If cranberries are so good at keeping bacteria from sticking to the wall of the bladder, what about keeping bacteria from sticking to other places like our teeth? I tough on that in my video Childhood Tea Drinking May Increase Fluorosis Risk.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Related:
Black Raspberries Reverse Precancerous Progression
Half of Doctors Give Placebos
Anti-Cancer Nutrient Synergy in Cranberries

Read more: Health, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Videos, , , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

104 comments

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4:50AM PDT on May 1, 2014

The information in this blog is extremely useful for the people.
acai berry powder

5:17PM PDT on Oct 17, 2013

Cranberries are extremely useful in treating urinary tract infections. Many individuals can prove that. You can also check out http://flotrolrevealed.com/ for more info on how you can cure UTI.

10:16AM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

Thanks for the info.

5:47AM PDT on Sep 18, 2013

If you say so, Don and I Can. Does that mean if you experience a placebo effect from drinking cranberry juice and it makes you feel better, and you truly believe in a psychosomatic affiliation, that your body will automatically self-correct itself?
Can you also heal cancer, ALS, MS, and other afflictions that way?

2:11PM PDT on Sep 17, 2013

BARBARA D: Placebo's in and of themselves do not cure, it's the thought that counts. You really should read more "studies" and "trails" regarding the PLACEBO "EFFECT"; which IS THE CURE.
Don and I CAN! :-))

12:33PM PDT on Sep 17, 2013

Don and Donna, a placebo effect can't *cure* a bacterial bladder infection. It can help prevent them.

12:05PM PDT on Sep 17, 2013

JAMIE C: Surely you jest my dear. If this works - and apparently it does. My bride and I both use them - how many different kinds of berries do you need? Don and I CAN! :-))

9:22AM PDT on Sep 17, 2013

Any research on other types of berries?

5:13PM PDT on Sep 11, 2013

noted

6:29AM PDT on Sep 10, 2013

well the first time I had a uti was a couple months ago and the doctor told me to drink cranberry juice. I tell you I never want to get one of those again.

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