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Science backs up cranberry’s UTI protecting benefits

Lisa Lagace
July 18, 2012

A study shows that the old folk remedy for protecting against urinary tract infections actually works.

We’ve all heard it before — drinking cranberry juice can help protect against urinary tract infections (UTI). But where was the science to back up this folk remedy?

There has long been a debate among the medical community as to how beneficial this home treatment really is, but a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows there is some truth behind this natural cure.

In 2008, a study conducted by Cochrane Review suggested that cranberry products could reduce urinary tract infections by 34 per cent. This was backed up by molecular studies showing cranberries could block bacteria from attaching itself to the urinary tract.

There have also been studies showing the opposite — that those consuming more cranberry products were more likely to develop UTIs.

Although there is yet to be a consensus on how protective it truly is, some doctors still recommend cranberry products to patients fighting the infection, as the other treatment options – antibiotics — are known to lead to drug resistance.

In the new study, Dr. Chih-Hung Wang was looking to clarify the conflicting data about its use.

To get a variety of data, researchers conducted 13 trials on 1,616 participants. They looked directly at the consumption of cranberries and cranberry products such as juices and pills, and how it affected their risk for infection.

The evidence pointed to a noticeable decrease in risk, with those that consumed more cranberry seeing a 38 per cent decrease in comparison to those on the imitation products.

When they analysed the data further, they found that the benefits were even more pronounced for those who regularly experience UTIs, as this subgroup experienced a 47 per cent reduction in infections when consuming more cranberries.

Those who drank cranberry juice, rather than eating cranberries or taking supplements, saw a large drop in infections at 53 per cent. Researchers theorize this could be because they were better hydrated or because the juice had other beneficial additives, but some doctors are wary, noting that the sugar in juice can promote bacterial growth.

Children consuming cranberry products received the most benefit, with a 67 per cent reduction.

Although researchers could not determine how exactly cranberries protect against infection, they suggest future studies look into the compound A-type proanthocyanidins, which is known to block one of the common causes of UTIs — E.Coli — from sticking to the membranes of the urinary tract.

Summer sippers

Looking for a way to introduce more cranberry to your diet? Here are a few summer drink recipes from Delish.com.

Sparkling Cranberry Splash

Ingredients

1 bottle(s) vinho verde, chilled
1/3 cup(s) cranberry-juice cocktail
Crushed ice
3  ripe white peaches (optional), sliced
Mint sprigs (optional)

In a large pitcher, combine wine and cranberry-juice cocktail. Divide crushed ice and wine mixture among glasses. Garnish each glass with sliced peaches and a sprig of mint, if desired.

Orange-Cranberry Fizz

Ingredients

1 quart(s) cranberry-raspberry juice blend, chilled
2 cup(s) cranberry-flavored or plain ginger ale, chilled
2 cup(s) orange juice
2 cup(s) lemon-lime seltzer, chilled
Orange and lime slices, and cranberries, for garnish

In large pitcher (about 3 quarts), mix cranberry-raspberry juice, ginger ale, and orange juice. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, stir in seltzer. If you like, garnish with orange and lime slices, and cranberries.

Cranberry Juice Cocktail

Ingredients

1 cup(s) water
2/3 cup(s) sugar
3 cup(s) cranberry juice
1 cup(s) fresh lime or lemon juice
Seltzer
Lime slices for garnish

In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Cook over moderate heat, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Let cool.

Fill a pitcher with the sugar syrup, cranberry juice and lime juice and chill. Pour into ice-filled Collins glasses about three-quarters full. Add seltzer and garnish with a lime slice.

Want more ideas? Check out some of our favourite recipes featuring cranberries:
 Harvest Sangria
Watermelon Mango Rum Punch
Spiced Cranberry Juice
Sources: Archives of Internal Medicine, Time, Fox, Delish

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Robyn Mackenzie

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