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Cranberry juice may not be the cure-all we always thought it was. As reported by BBC News, in 2018 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) — the public health organization of the United Kingdom — began the process of drafting new guidelines regarding the treatment of urinary tract infections (UTIs). While previous studies found that cranberry juice (or cranberry pills) may help prevent a bacterial infection in the bladder and the urethra, the organization claims there is minimal evidence to support this.
The researchers are suggesting that the medical community focus on different approaches to treatment. Ideally, the body would be able to fight off a mild infection without medication, but the organization says physicians can prescribe an antibiotic if the symptoms — pain and burning while urinating; a frequent need to urinate yet only releasing small amounts; urine that smells strong and appears red, pink, or cloudy; and pelvic pain — have intensified or have not improved within 48 hours.
“We recognize that the majority of UTIs will require antibiotic treatment, but we need to be smarter with our use of these medicines,” stated professor Mark Baker, the director of NICE. “Our new guidance will help healthcare professionals to optimize their use of antibiotics. This will help to protect these vital medicines and ensure that no one experiences side effects from a treatment they do not need.”
However, the agency is suggesting that doctors advise their patients to drink plenty of water and take a probiotic (while prescribing a painkiller, if necessary). NICE is not the first to report these findings.
In October 2017, a study released by the Infectious Diseases Society of America stated that increased water intake — an extra three pints each day — may help keep UTIs at bay in women who are prone to this type of infection. “If a woman has recurrent UTIs and is looking for a way to reduce her risk, the evidence suggests that if she increases the amount of water she drinks and stays with it, she’ll likely benefit,” said lead investigator Thomas M. Hooton, MD, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Miami School of Medicine, in a press release.
Earlier this year, a review article published in the journal Current Urology Reports stated that researchers have discovered a possible link between probiotics and a healthier urinary microbiome. “Already, we know that probiotics and dietary modifications have the potential to play powerful roles in preventing urinary diseases that commonly occur among pediatric patients,” said study author Michael H. Hsieh, MD, PhD, director of the Clinic for Adolescent and Adult Pediatric Onset Urology (CAPITUL) at Children’s National Health System, in a press release. Future research will continue to examine the role microbiomes plays in UTIs.
Bladder infections are the most common type of UTI — between 40 to 60 percent of women will develop one at some point their lifetime, according to statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services. One in four of these women will have a repeat occurrence.
According to the Mayo Clinic, preventative strategies include drinking plenty of water, wiping from front to back, urinating shortly after intercourse, avoiding irritating feminine products (like powders and deodorant sprays), and changing birth control methods. Drinking cranberry juice is also mentioned; even though studies are “not conclusive,” sipping this beverage is “likely not harmful.”