Talk True is a Zikoko limited series for medical myth-busting. With each episode, we’ll talk to medical professionals about commonly misunderstood health issues to get the actual facts.
The odds of you waking up and developing a sudden craving for cranberry juice are pretty minimal. With its characteristic tart taste, cranberry juice doesn’t rank high on popular refreshment choices, but it’s a hit in the online feminine wellness space.
A quick vaginal health/wellness search on Instagram will reveal many vendors touting the belief that cranberry juice will make Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) go away forever. Is this claim based on facts, or is it a myth? Dr Mary Alo provides answers.
First off, what’s a urinary tract infection?
As the name implies, it’s a bacterial infection of any part of the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. In women, it’s typically characterised by a burning sensation while peeing, cloudy or bright red urine, frequent passing of small amounts of urine, fever and pelvic pain.
Image: Sora Shimazaki on Pexels
While men can also have urinary tract infections, women are at a greater risk because they have a shorter urethra than men, making it easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder. Other gender-specific risk factors include using contraceptive diaphragms, pregnancy, frequent sexual activity with new partners and menopause.
It’s important to note that while sex can cause bacteria to move further into the urinary system, UTIs aren’t contagious/sexually transmitted infections.
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How does cranberry juice come in?
Some sources also claim that regular intake of cranberry juice improves the vagina’s “taste” — even though no scientific evidence supports the claim. But Mary explains the flaw in this logic.
“UTIs are infections majorly caused by a bacterial organism called Escherichia coli (E. Coli), and as such, are best treated with antibiotics. The rationale for using cranberry juice is that it can, in a way, help to preserve the flora. Infections are more likely to occur when the normal flora of the urinary tract is disturbed. E. Coli works by attaching itself to the host’s tissue, and current hypothesis suggests that cranberry juice works to prevent the adherence of E. Coli to the urothelium of the urinary tract. Without this attachment, the bacteria can’t infect the mucosal surface, thus preventing an infection from occurring.
But this is prevention. It isn’t enough rationale to use it as a form of treatment as UTIs can only be treated with antibiotics.”
Should you ditch it, then?
“It makes more sense to use cranberry juice in a proportionate amount as a preventive measure, though I wouldn’t recommend that’s all you use to prevent urinary tract infections.
You can use it in addition to concrete preventive measures like drinking more water, urinating before and after sexual intercourse to limit the spread of bacteria, wiping the vaginal area from front to back after using the toilet and not abusing antibiotics.”
Better treatment options for UTIs
Mary emphasises that urinary tract infections can only be treated with antibiotics.
“Once your healthcare provider confirms that the symptoms point to a urinary tract infection, the next thing to do is prescribe the appropriate antibiotic regimen for treatment. Don’t let people who are more profit-oriented tell you otherwise. Cranberry juice is just one of many ways to prevent UTIs — especially in recurrent infections — and it works in tandem with other preventive measures.”
Cranberry juice has benefits for feminine wellness and vaginal health, but it can’t cure urinary tract infections. At best, it’s a preventive measure, but not in isolation if preventing UTIs is the primary goal.
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