Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Cranberries and Urinary Tract Infections
Most women, and some men, are familiar with the symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infections(UTI): the frequent urge to urinate, the small volume of urine, the painful, burning feeling during urination ... not fun.
UTIs account for about 8.3 million doctor visits a year and 1 in 4 women will experience a UTI (and once you've had one, recurrence rates are high) in her lifetime. Although not as common in men, when they occur they can be very serious.
A UTI is diagnosed by a urine test performed by your doctor and can only be treated with antibiotics. But what did they do before antibiotics? By the mid 1800s, folkloric medicine books were suggesting cranberry juice. A 1994 Harvard study found that women who drank 10 oz of cranberry juice for 6 months were 58% less likely to have levels of bacteria in their urine that would be expected to cause infections. Lots of more recent studies have shown the same thing.
Turns out that compounds in cranberry juice, substances called trimeric procyanidins (proanthocyanidins), prevented bacteria from adhering to the lining of the urinary tract. Although all cranberry products (including cranberry sauce) can help prevent bacteria from adhering, alleviating your symptoms and preventing UTIs, your best bet is to drink 2 cups of cranbery juice- one in the morning and one before bed. Commercial varieties of cranberry juice have lots of sugar added and although you can buy pure cranberry juice, it's very sour. Diluting the pure stuff with diet (low calorie) cranberry juice cocktail (about 25% cranberry juice and 75% water) is best.
You can now buy cranberry pills but, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, it's a "hit-or-miss". Remember that these products aren't regulated so you're not really sure what you're getting in those pills- the label should say something like "made with whole berries". It's important to know that only antibiotics can cure a UTI and avoiding treatment can aggravate the infection that can move to your kidneys and become very serious.
What else can you do to prevent a UTI and/or alleviate the painful symptoms of an infection?
- Drink plenty of water to flush out your system- aim for 8-10 cups a day.
- Some evidence is coming out indicating that blueberries also contain procyanidins and act similarly to cranberries (it's blueberry season now so visit your local farmer's market. You can buy pure blueberry juice).
- Urinate when you feel the need (don't hold it in) and empty your bladder completely when you do.
- Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays and douches and wipe from fron to back to keep the urethra clean.