If you've ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI) or have heard of a UTI before, you've probably heard about drinking cranberry juice as the cure. It's an old remedy and a lot of people swear by it, but does it work? The short answer: not really. That's not a definite "no", but there are a few things that need clearing up around the myth, as well as what it means to be a cure. Here's some info on the UTI cranberry cure myth, as well as ways to get some relief from UTI pain the right way:
First, Some Relief
Before anything else, go to a doctor. Urinary tract infections can get worse, so if you're just experiencing some burning sensations when you urinate, you're getting to it early. A doctor can give you an expert analysis on what to do, as well as pain relief medication. Antibiotics are an option, but not necessary.
Are doctors too expensive for you? Call one anyway and ask about free clinics! All businesses need to make a profit, but medical professionals understand that some people need help and can't afford the care. They can direct you to a free clinic or give you an arrangement that isn't so hard on the wallet. It never hurts to ask!
Finally, if all else fails and there's no doctor around, over-the-counter relief is available until you can get to a medical professional. There are a number of urinary pain relief medications on the market, but keep in mind that they are just pain relief. The infection is still there, and although infections can "clear up" or go away through your body's natural bacteria-fighting capabilities, it isn't always a sure thing.
The bacteria can weaken, but still be present. Pain could go away, but this could hide a slow invasion of your kidneys that leads to much bigger pain and problems later--or just a lot more UTIs.
Why Cranberries, Though?
The cranberry (as well as blackcurrant, plum juice, and lemon juice) myth isn't just an urban legend made up recently. Like many entries of old science, it was assumed that the acidity of cranberry juice would make a person's urine too acid for bacteria to survive urination and the leftover acid in the urinary tract.
The acid isn't supposed to kill the bacteria (E. coli) as some versions of the myth say; the hypothesis is that cranberries prevent adhesion by clearing away naturally-occurring mucous in the urinary tract. In short, it gets rid of sticky material so E. coli can't stick and multiply enough. A documented study of the process can be found at the National Center for Biotechnical Information (NCBI).
The NCBI and other studies show that using cranberry juice as a UTI treatment just doesn't cure UTIs. At most, there's a small effect of urinary acidity change that can't be accredited to getting better. If science says it doesn't work, why does it continue to thrive?
It could be a placebo effect. Believing that something will happen to your body's immune system or general health can be a strong influence, and although it may not solve a problem, it can make you feel better through either suppression of negative sensations or a (very simplified) set of motivations to fight a problem. You could also coincidentally be getting better on your own, as a UTI can be fought off successfully by the body. It could even be a combination of the two.
If you keep getting UTIs and want something stronger than cranberry juice, speak with a doctor and get some healthcare advice catered to your needs.