Cystitis, also known as urinary tract infection (UTI), is thought to affect up to 60 p.c. of women at some point in their lives. Infections can tend to recur, and at least a third of women with an infection experience another one within a year. The mainstay of conventional treatment for UTIs is antibiotics. While these ay help clear cystitis, there is growing concern that antibiotic use is leading to the emergence of organisms resistant to their effects. The search in therefore on for more natural approaches to cystitis. Over the last 20 years there has been growing interest in the role of cranberry in the prevention of UTIs. Last week, research published in the British Medical Journal showed that women consuming a drink containing cranberry juice halved their risk of succumbing to a UTI. So, what do we know cranberry’s effect on UTIs, and does it really offer promise for women suffering from this common and troublesome infection?
UTIs are almost always caused by bacterial organisms. About 80 p.c. of infections are caused by an organism called Escherichia coli (E. coli) which normally lives in the gut. E. coli makes it’s way into the bladder from the outside by migrating up the tube that takes urine from the bladder to the outside (the urethra). E. coli is easily flushed out of the bladder during urination. Therefore, in order for it to set up camp in the bladder it must stick to the inside of the bladder. It does this through the use of finger-like projections called fimbriae which it uses to penetrate and ‘grab hold of’ the bladder lining.
Several studies show that cranberry has the ability to impair E. coli’s ability to form fimbriae. Unable to stick to the bladder wall, E. coli can then be flushed harmlessly out of the system. In the recent British Medical Journal study, 50 women were treated with 50 mls of a mix of cranberry and lingonberry juice each day for six months. At the end of the treatment period, it was found that women consuming the juice mix had had about half the number of UTIs compared to women who had had no treatment. Interestingly, this protective effect appeared to remain another six months later despite no further treatment.