According to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, urinary tract infections are the second most common type of infection and account for approximately 8.3 million visits to the doctor per year. Though urinary tract infections can be treated with antibiotics, they are uncomfortable and can damage your kidneys if left untreated. If you develop recurrent urinary tract infections, cranberry pills may help in prevention of future infections.
An infection of the urinary tract can involve any aspect of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Infection is typically introduced into this system via the urethra when bacteria from the digestive tract come into contact with the urethra and travel up to the bladder. Urinary tract infections are more common in women because of the proximity of the urethra to the anus. Symptoms of a urinary tract infection include pain with urination, increased frequency of urination, abdominal pain and fever.
Cranberry is thought to decrease your risk of urinary tract infection by preventing the binding of bacteria to the walls of the cell surface. Bacteria known as Escherichia coli, a common cause of urinary tract infection, have difficulty adhering to cell membranes in the presence of cranberry. Also, cranberry makes urine more acidic, which may also contribute to an antibacterial effect. While cranberry can decrease your risk of developing a urinary tract infection, studies have not demonstrated that you can treat a urinary tract infection with cranberry once it has developed.
Cranberry pills are most useful for women who are at increased risk of developing frequent urinary tract infections. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, one out of every five women has a urinary tract infection and out of these women, 3 percent develop recurrent disease. Cranberry pills typically contain 300 to 400 mg of concentrated cranberry extract and should be taken twice daily. Alternatively, you may drink 8 oz. of pure unsweetened cranberry juice three times daily.
While cranberry pills are not known to have significant side effects, long-term data regarding the safety of cranberry is unknown. One possible side effect is a risk of kidney stone formation in people who have a history of kidney stones. If you develop recurrent urinary tract infections despite the use of cranberry pills, your doctor may recommend antibiotics at the first sign of symptoms or one dose of antibiotics after sexual intercourse. If a urinary tract infection does develop, your physician will test your urine to ensure that you are on the right medication and will likely prescribe an antibiotic for treatment.