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Is There a Benefit from Cranberry Pills?

Cranberry juice has a reputation for preventing urinary tract infections. Clinical trials show a benefit from cranberry pills, too.

Women have long believed that cranberry juice can help prevent painful urinary tract infections such as cystitis. Although its effects were long classified as folklore, some studies demonstrate fewer infections among people drinking cranberry juice (Pharmacological Reviews, Oct., 2016). A recent analysis of all the studies done on cranberry juice preventing urinary tract infections confirmed this (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, April 17, 2023). Might there be a benefit from cranberry pills?

Reader Reaps Benefit from Cranberry Pills:

Q. Ever since 2005, recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) have troubled me. The UTI came back within two weeks of stopping antibiotics. For years, the urologist alternated between macrodantin and trimethroprim. Ultimately, neither worked and I was referred to an infectious disease physician.

She explained that some people’s bladders become colonized with bacteria. They just live with it. There were only about eight or nine antibiotics left that I could take, and some had to be administered by IV in a hospital, with no guarantee of a cure.

At that point, I gave up on doctors. Instead, after reading about studies, I found a daily dose of cranberry extract pills that controls the infection. I didn’t radically alter my diet.

I still have symptoms: burning and frequency, which can mostly be controlled by cutting back on caffeine and making sure I drink 32 ounces of water in addition to other drinks. (Eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily are too much for me.) For the past five years, taking my health into my own hands has worked for me.

Science Supports This Approach:

A. Congratulations on finding an approach you can use. Although doctors have long considered the use of cranberry juice for UTIs an old wives’ tale, a recent meta-analysis found that cranberry compounds help prevent recurrences (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, April 17, 2023).

Cranberry Capsules for Urinary Tract Infections:

Q. I have started taking cranberry capsules in the hope that they will work as well against urinary tract infections as cranberry juice. What do you think about the benefit from cranberry pills?

The Cranberry Pill Study:

A. One study tested the benefit from cranberry pills compared to placebo among women in nursing homes (JAMA, Nov. 8, 2016).  The elderly women in this trial were prone to repeated urinary tract infections. Investigators measured bacteria in their urine.

Unfortunately, in this randomized clinical trial the cranberry pills were no more effective than placebo. You can listen to the lead author explain the study and its findings here.

Are There Other Ways to Avoid Urinary Tract Infections?

If you can’t count on getting a benefit from cranberry pills, you might want another way to avoid repeat UTIs. Sometimes doctors prescribe antibiotics to prevent as well as treat urinary tract infections. On the other hand, if they prescribe antibiotics for people without infections, they are not exercising good stewardship of these crucial drugs.

Some readers report that a dietary supplement containing D-mannose helps protect against urinary tract infections. A pilot study published in the European Review of Medical and Pharmacological Sciences (July, 2016) found that D-mannose helped for both the prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Dietz BM et al, "Botanicals and their bioactive phytochemicals for women's health." Pharmacological Reviews, Oct., 2016. DOI: 10.1124/pr.115.010843
  • Williams G et al, "Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, April 17, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD001321.pub6
  • Juthani-Mehta M et al, "Effect of cranberry capsules on bacteriuria plus pyuria among older women in nursing homes: A randomized clinical trial." JAMA, Nov. 8, 2016. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.16141
  • Domenici L et al, "D-mannose: a promising support for acute urinary tract infections in women. A pilot study." European Review of Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, July, 2016.
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