Does Cranberry Juice Help a Urinary Tract Infection?

Urinary tract infections are painful. Cranberry juice may be a home remedy to help prevent one. Here's how it works and how much to drink.

Understanding UTIs

Urinary tract infections are no joke. Also called UTIs, these infections are caused by bacteria that enter the urethra and infect a part of the urinary tract. That can also affect the bladder or even progress to the kidney, causing more serious problems.

One popular and common home remedy for UTI symptoms? Drinking cranberry juice. Some people believe it can help prevent and/or treat UTIs.

Symptoms of a UTI

The symptoms of a UTI are bothersome and painful and they include:

Women are more likely than men to get a UTI because of the location and structure of their urethra. (The urethra is a duct that moves urine out of the bladder.)

In fact, six in 10 women will get a UTI in their lifetime, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. If you have two or more confirmed infections within six months, doctors label this as a “recurrent infection.”

UTIs can be dangerous

It’s important to pay attention to the symptoms of a UTI and seek medical care to avoid complications.

One possible complication occurs when the infection moves into your kidneys and causes a kidney infection. Those symptoms include fever, chills, lower back pain, nausea, or vomiting, and require prompt medical attention.

Glass with fresh organic cranberry juice.Dmitrii Ivanov/Getty Images

Can cranberry juice prevent a UTI?

Maybe. “There is some good evidence in the research that consuming cranberry juice or cranberries can help lower bacteria in the bladder and prevent recurrence of UTIs in both human and animal models,” says Seattle-based functional nutrition expert Ginger Hultin, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Champagne Nutrition.

A review of studies, published in 2017 in the Journal of Urology, found that consuming cranberry products reduced the risk of UTIs by up to 33 percent. The cranberry products seemed especially effective for those who had recurring infections.

Why does cranberry juice help?

Sipping cranberry juice may help prevent nasty bacteria from setting up shop. An animal study, published in 2017 in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, suggests that cranberry juice may reduce E. coli bacteria from multiplying in the bladder.

“There are two main compounds in cranberries and their juice that can be helpful: D-mannose, a type of sugar, and proanthocyanin, which is an antioxidant,” explains Robin Foroutan, RDN, who specializes in integrative and functional nutrition in New York City and is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “These compounds prevent bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urethra and mucosa in the urinary tract, which prevents bacteria from infecting the tissue.”

Ultimately, that could put a stop to a UTI.

The benefit of consuming cranberry juice for a UTI

UTIs are traditionally treated with antibiotics. But antibiotic resistance is a real problem. As the authors of the Journal of Urology review point out, cranberry juice may be an alternative for people who are repeatedly prescribed antibiotics.

Drinking cranberry juice on a regular basis may help them prevent their next infection (and reap the other cranberry health benefits).

Just to be clear, though, not everyone needs to drink cranberry juice. It really only appears to be useful for preventing UTIs in women with a history of recurrent UTIs, says Foroutan.

In other words: Cranberry juice isn’t a treatment for someone experiencing their first UTI.

If you have symptoms of a UTI, it’s important to contact your doctor. Besides getting appropriate treatment, you should be examined to determine the underlying reason for any repeated infections.

How much cranberry juice should you drink?

In a study published in 2016 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women with a history of UTIs who drank eight ounces of cranberry juice per day for about six months were diagnosed with fewer infections than those who didn’t.

Foroutan recommends 100 percent cranberry juice, which is not the same as a “cranberry juice cocktail” with added sugar. Cranberry juice can be tart, so feel free to dilute it with water or club soda, and add a squeeze of lime, she recommends. (Yep, a UTI-preventing mocktail!)

Not only will you add extra hydration but it’ll make preventing a UTI yummy and kind of fun, too.

Sources
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Urinary Tract Infection"
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Conditions We Treat: Recurrent UTIs"
  • Ginger Hultin, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of ChampagneNutrition in Seattle
  • Journal of Urology: "Can Cranberries Contribute to Reduce the Incidence of Urinary Tract Infections? A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis and Trial Sequential Analysis of Clinical Trials"
  • Frontiers in Microbiology: "Cranberry Juice and Combinations of Its Organic Acids Are Effective Against Experimental Urinary Tract Infection"
  • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition : "Consumption of a cranberry juice beverage lowered the number of clinical urinary tract infection episodes in women with a recent history of urinary tract infection"
  • Robin Foroutan, RDN, integrative and functional registered dietitian nutritionist in New York City and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Jessica Migala
Jessica Migala is a freelance health and fitness writer with more than a decade experience reporting on wellness trends and research. She's contributed to Health, Men's Health, Family Circle, Woman's Day, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other publications. Jessica lives with her husband and two young sons in the Chicago suburbs.