Do Cranberries REALLY Help with Urinary Tract Infections? An OB-GYN Sets the Record Straight

Dr. Mary Jane Minkin shares her advice for managing UTIs

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With all the conflicting research out there (is butter good for us or not??) it’s hard to know what to believe. Take, for instance, the idea that cranberries help prevent urinary tract infections — is that fact or fiction?

The tip is real, says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a board-certified OB/GYN at Yale University School of Medicine and member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad.

“There is definitely data showing a decrease in incidence of recurrent UTIs in women taking cranberries,” she tells PEOPLE, and points to the “over 400” studies in one medical database on the topic.

And while some of those original studies were non-conclusive, more recent research confirms that cranberry products can, indeed, lessen or eliminate UTI symptoms. One significant study, published in the Journal of Urology in 2017, analyzed 28 clinical trials that covered nearly 5,000 patients, and found that consuming cranberry products — including some juices, capsules, tablets and extracts — was linked to a 32 percent reduced risk of repeat UTIs.

Minkin says that cranberries are effective against the infections because they can ward off and eliminate bacteria.

“They may keep bacteria from adhering to the wall of the bladder, preventing UTIs, and they also may have a direct effect on killing the bacteria,” she says.

According to a 2009 study, there are two unique types of antioxidants in cranberries — anthocyanidin and proanthocyanidin — which are thought to be what repels the bacteria in the bladder. The 2017 study came to the same conclusion.

“If the bacteria are not able to adhere to cells, they cannot grow and cause infection,” the researchers wrote.

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Minkin is a proponent of using cranberries to prevent and heal UTIs and recommends cranberry products to her patients. But she suggests staying away from cranberry juice for a different health reason.

“I often tell my patients to go to the health food store to get cranberry extract pills, because cranberry juice does have quite a bit of sugar,” she says. “The extract avoids adding that extra sugar.”

UTIs mostly affect women, Minkin says.

“It’s for two reasons — one, our urethras are very short, and the bacteria can climb up from the outside to our bladders very easily,” she says. “And also, when we go through menopause, not only do our vaginas get dry, but our bladders and urethras get dry too. And when the vagina is dry, we end up with nastier bacteria there — the lactobacilli keeping our flora healthy like estrogenized tissue — so when the tissue is not well estrogenized, we end up with nastier bacteria.”

Along with trying out cranberry products, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids, pee after sex and stay away from products like douches, according to Planned Parenthood. And those who experience frequent UTIs or have severe symptoms should see a doctor, as the infection could lead to permanent kidney damage or a life-threatening condition like septis.

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