With all the conflicting research out there (is butter good for us or not??) it’s hard to parse through studies and figure out what information is legitimate. Take, for instance, the idea that cranberry juice is good for urinary tract infections — is that fact or fiction?
That 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.
While some of those studies were unsure if cranberries make a difference, recent research is showing more definitively that they do help. 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 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 bacteria and eliminate it.
“They may keep bacteria from adhering to the wall of the bladder and 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 all for using cranberries to prevent and heal UTIs and recommends it to her patients. But she suggests staying away from cranberry juice for a different health reason.
“I often will have my patients 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 are an affliction mostly unique to women, unfortunately, Minkin says, and something to look out for.
“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 feminine hygiene products, according to Planned Parenthood. And those who get frequent UTIs or are experiencing severe symptoms should see a doctor, as the infection could lead to permanent kidney damage or life-threatening conditions like septis.
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