Cranberry Juice for a UTI? Think Again

A woman drinking a tall glass of fruit juice

You may have heard that cranberry juice can help combat urinary tract infections (UTI). That’s a common myth. Cranberry juice has been studied quite a bit, but its effectiveness remains unproven and there is no strong evidence behind it.

In fact, you’re probably better off drinking water, says University Hospitals family medicine physician Rachel Wallace, DO.

Keeping yourself hydrated can help prevent UTIs, Dr. Wallace says – but you don’t need the added sugar from cranberry juice. Urinary tract infections happen when bacteria – usually E. coli bacteria from the bowel – enter the urethra. Most often, infections occur in the bladder.

Here are some other myths and facts about UTIs.

Myth: Men Don’t Get UTIs

Women are most likely to get UTIs, but men can also get them.

“About 50 percent of women will experience a UTI, whereas the number for men is closer to 12 percent,” Dr. Wallace says.

“The reason we see it more often in women has a lot to do with anatomy. For women, the urethra is a lot shorter than it is in men. Women’s urethra also is closer to vagina, which can collect bacteria, and the anus.”

Causes Differ for Men and Women

Women can get the bacterial infections from sexual intercourse, due to the anatomical proximity mentioned above. Other risk factors for women include:

  • Pregnancy, which puts pressure on the urinary tract.
  • Pelvic organ prolapse.
  • Post-menopausal hormonal changes.

Men are at higher risk for UTIs if they’re uncircumcised, have kidney stones or enlarged prostate.

Immune deficiencies and diabetes increase the risk for men and women.

Don’t Self-Diagnose

Women who have experienced a UTI can often tell when they develop another. Typical symptoms include pain or burning while urinating, frequent need to urinate, pressure in the lower belly and cloudy or foul-smelling urine.

But symptoms can also mimic other conditions, Dr. Wallace says. “There are several types of sexually transmitted infections that can mimic symptoms of UTI,” she says. “Sometimes kidney stones can mimic those symptoms, as well as a bladder condition called interstitial cystitis.”

If you have symptoms, see a doctor. A urinalysis will confirm if it’s a UTI. If a kidney infection is suspected, or if you’ve had frequent UTI’s or antibiotic-resistant UTI’s, the doctor may order a more elaborate test called a urine culture, Dr. Wallace says. A culture will determine the type of bacteria and help guide the antibiotic decision.

“If you have bacteria present and you’re having symptoms, you need antibiotics to fully clear the infection,” she says.

Dr. Wallace offers these tips for preventing UTIs:

  • Women should wipe front to back to keep bacteria away from the urethra.
  • Urinating after intercourse helps flush out bacteria.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Try not to hold urine too long.
  • Control your blood sugar or diabetes. High blood sugar can lead to high levels in your urine. Bacteria thrive on it (another reason to go easy on the cranberry juice).
  • Avoid potentially irritating feminine hygiene products.

What About OTC Treatments?

Over-the-counter products for UTIs can help with pain and discomfort, but they won’t kill the bacteria. Only antibiotics will do that.

Products such as Azo will also turn the color of urine to orange. That can be a problem because the color will skew the results of a urinalysis, Dr. Wallace says. So, if you suspect a UTI, see a medical provider for urinalysis before taking the product.

“Get tested first,” Dr. Wallace says. “And make sure to stay super hydrated to flush the kidneys.”

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Whatever your age or stage of life, prevention is the best medicine. That's why it's important to see your primary care provider for age-appropriate screenings and vaccinations that can prevent disease.