Does cranberry juice prevent UTIs? FDA says nope

By Shannan Rouss ; Updated March 23, 2018

What chicken soup is to the common cold, cranberry juice is to the urinary tract infection. We “think” the age-old remedy might help ward off symptoms, but who can really say? That’s the question up for debate as cranberry-juice maker Ocean Spray seeks to market its beverage as a bona fide preventative treatment for UTIs.

According to The Washington Post, the move came as an attempt to boost lagging sales. To that end, Ocean Spray has spent millions on studies exploring the link between cranberries and UTIs. The company is steering clear of any claims that cranberry juice actually treats UTIs, for which there is zero proof. But in September it submitted a health claim petition to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeking permission to claim that the consumption of cranberry products “reduced the risk of recurrent urinary tract infection in healthy women.”

The FDA’s response? The agency denied Ocean Spray’s petition to make an “authorized health claim,” the gold standard in food-labeling claims, which require “significant scientific agreement (SSA) among qualified experts,” according to the FDA’s site.

FDA regulators may still give Ocean Spray the OK to make what’s known as a “qualified health claim,” which only requires “some scientific evidence,” and must come with an overt disclaimer. Think something like: Some evidence suggests, but does not prove, that consumption of cranberry products “may” reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs only in healthy people, although the FDA concludes that it is highly uncertain.

That pretty much sums up where most experts stand on the link between cranberry juice and UTIs as well. In 2012 an independent network of scientists, The Cochrane Group, conducted a comprehensive review of relevant studies and concluded that “cranberry juice cannot currently be recommended for the prevention of UTIs.”

“I think the evidence is mixed and small, at best,” said Ruth Jepson, the lead author of that paper, in The Washington Post. After looking at the latest research from Ocean Spray, Jepson didn’t waiver in her position, saying that she was “not convinced by the research.”

So if drinking cranberry juice is so futile, why does the myth that it helps prevent (and even treat) UTIs persist? “There is an active ingredient in cranberries that can prevent adherence of bacteria to the bladder wall, particularly E. coli,” explains urologist Courtenay Moore, M.D., on the Cleveland Clinic’s website. “But most of the studies have shown that juice and supplements don’t have enough of this active ingredient, A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs), to prevent bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract.”

If you’re still tempted to down cranberry juice when you feel the symptoms of a UTI coming on (because it can’t hurt, right?), just be sure to steer clear of the “cocktail” version of the juice, which is loaded with sugar. (An eight-ounce serving of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail contains 28 grams of sugar — more than you’d get in a Coke.) Instead, stick to pure cranberry juice. And be prepared for some seriously face-scrunching tartness.

What Do YOU Think?

Are you surprised to learn that drinking cranberry juice likely doesn’t help with UTIs? Have you tried the age-old method in the past to prevent or treat an infection? Do you think Ocean Spray should be allowed to make a health claim on its products?

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