The first line of treatment for a urinary tract infection (UTI) is antibiotics. However, some people may take cranberry supplements or drink cranberry juice to reduce their risk of developing one. Research is conflicted about whether cranberry juice is an effective method of treatment or prevention.

UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urethra and infect the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the urethra, bladder, ureter, and kidney. UTIs are common in females, infants, and older adults.

According to a 2017 article, 1 in 3 females will experience a UTI by the time they are 24 years old.

Most UTIs resolve within 1–2 days of taking antibiotics. However, a UTI could cause serious health issues without treatment, including kidney infection and sepsis. Sepsis is a very serious condition that can lead to organ failure and death.

This article takes a look at how drinking cranberry juice may play a part in preventing UTIs and highlights some other evidence-based home remedies and treatment methods.

Learn about some other health benefits of cranberry juice here.

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Many people drink cranberry juice in the hopes of preventing a UTI from developing. However, the Office on Women’s Health states that the efficacy of cranberry juice for preventing UTIs has had conflicting results.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, raw cranberries contain antioxidant proanthocyanidins, or PACs, that can prevent bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urinary tract.

In one 2017 study, researchers discovered that taking cranberry capsules containing 36 mg of PACs daily reduced the frequency of UTIs in young people aged 12-18 years with recurrent infections.

According to an older 2012 research study, cranberry juice on its own is unlikely to have the same effect. This is because most store-bought cranberry juices do not contain enough PACs to prevent bacterial adhesion.

However, researchers in 2013 examined the preventive effects of cranberry juice on those with recurrent UTIs. The researchers found a lower recurrence rate in those who drank 125 milliliters (ml) of cranberry juice before sleeping for 24 weeks.

It is important to note that this study included those with complicated UTIs, which means that they had an increased chance of complications and persistent or recurrent infections. Males, people who are pregnant, and people who use urinary catheters are among those at higher risk of developing complicated UTIs.

Results from using cranberry juice may differ for those with uncomplicated UTIs. An uncomplicated UTI is a UTI that occurs in those with normal urinary and kidney functions.

People with painful bladder syndrome, also known as interstitial cystitis, should avoid drinking cranberry juice as it can worsen their symptoms.

Learn more about UTIs in pregnancy here.

While cranberry products may help some people prevent UTI recurrence, there is no evidence-based research that proves drinking cranberry juice can cure or improve the symptoms of an active UTI.

However, according to one 2021 feasibility study, some people found that taking cranberry supplements in addition to antibiotics cleared the infection more quickly than taking antibiotics alone, whereas others reported no improvement at all.

There is not enough evidence to suggest that cranberry products can reduce or improve the symptoms of an active UTI.

Learn more about cranberries here.

Some research suggests that up to 42% of uncomplicated UTIs resolve without treatment. However, individuals who suspect that they have a UTI should seek medical attention as soon as possible as a mild infection could become serious and potentially fatal without treatment.

People who get two or more culture-documented UTIs within 6 months should consider seeing a urologist.

Learn about D-Mannose, a supplement that may help alleviate and prevent UTIs.

Medical

Antibiotics are the standard treatment method for UTIs. However, the type of medication prescribed and the length of treatment will depend on the person’s symptoms and medical history.

First-line treatments for UTIs include:

  • nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin and Macrobid)
  • fosfomycin (Monurol)
  • trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim and Septra)

People who experience recurrent UTIs might consider:

  • taking an antibiotic after sexual intercourse
  • taking a long-term, low-dose antibiotic for up to 6 months
  • taking a 3-day course of antimicrobials if symptoms reappear within 48 hours of initial treatment
  • seeing a licensed acupuncturist
  • undergoing vaginal estrogen therapy

Learn more about antibiotics here.

Home treatment

A person can try the following to ease symptoms of a UTI:

If a person decides to drink cranberry juice to help prevent or treat a UTI, they should opt for an unsweetened juice.

Learn more

A person can take the following measures to minimize their risk of developing a UTI:

Stay hydrated

According to one 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis, drinking more fluids is one of the simplest ways to prevent recurrent UTIs.

Although there is no set recommendation for how much water a person should drink daily, one study showed that drinking 6–8 glasses of water per day may reduce UTI recurrence in older people living in care homes. Proper hydration might also reduce the number of care home residents admitted to the hospital with dehydration, which is a leading cause of UTIs.

Learn more about UTIs in older people here.

Wipe from front to back

For females, wiping from front to back may help reduce UTI risk.

Wiping in this manner prevents germs and bacteria from coming in contact with the urethra. In addition to wiping from front to back, people should use separate pieces of toilet paper to wipe the genitals and anus.

Learn about other urethral infections and conditions here.

Urinate when the urge strikes

According to one 2019 study, delayed voiding, or waiting to urinate, has associations with an increased risk of recurrent UTIs.

Learn about urine hesitancy here.

Other prevention

To prevent a potential UTI from developing, people should urinate as soon as they feel the need to do so. Other methods to help prevent UTIs include:

  • urinating before and after intercourse
  • practicing good sexual hygiene
  • avoiding scented feminine products, including douches and scented pads or tampons
  • taking probiotic supplements or eating fermented foods, such as yogurt and kefir
  • limiting alcohol and caffeinated drinks

Learn more about urinating after sexual intercourse here.

People who have one or more of the following symptoms should see a healthcare professional:

While drinking cranberry juice may reduce recurrent UTIs for some people, cranberry juice and other cranberry products are unlikely to treat an active UTI infection.

Many health professionals still consider taking antibiotics the gold standard of UTI treatments. However, this is not always the case.

People who suspect they have a UTI should consult their doctor before trying to treat the infection themselves.