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Cranberries vs. antibiotics in the prevention of cystitis

The urgent need to urinate, burning and pain in the lower pelvis are all symptoms of cystitis which, if they keep recurring, can truly sap your morale.

Cranberries vs. antibiotics
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So, which of the following is more effective in preventing these infections: antibiotics or cranberries? Doctissimo clears up the matter for the many women out there who are just about at their wits’ end.

Cranberries as a cure for urinary tract infection?

Many women have already suffered from the previously mentioned woes, which are typical of urinary tract infections (UTI) or cystitis. It is estimated that half of women will have a UTI at one point in their lives. Yet one should not downplay the pain and discomfort cystitis causes, especially as this disorder often recurs.

There is a distinction to be made between repeated cystitis (occurring less than 3 times a year) and recurring cystitis (more than 3 times a year). Depending on its frequency, cystitis can seriously affect  a woman’s quality of life. There are several ways for women with cystitis to alleviate their suffering:

  • Change of hygiene and dietary habits: drink enough water (1.5L daily), urinate every 3 hours during the day, wear loose-fitting clothes, choose cotton underwear over nylon undergarments and eat a fibre-rich diet to reduce constipation;
  • Be mindful of aggravating factors: constipation, excessive or neglected intimate hygiene, use of spermicide and so on.

In addition to these measures, it is recommended that you drink cranberry juice during meals. Regular cranberry consumption ensures effective protection against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Cranberries contain flavonoids, anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins which are thought to be capable of binding to certain Escherichia coli bacteria responsible for cystitis, thereby inhibiting bacterial attachment to the bladder cells and preventing infection as the bacteria have nowhere to go and are eliminated naturally. So, which of antibiotics or antibiotics is more effective in terms of prevention?

Cranberries vs. antibiotics

Several studies1 have proved that cranberries reduce the incidence of cystitis in women aged 30 to 40. Past the age of 40, however, there is no evidence that this little red fruit possesses similar health virtues. A team of Scottish researchers2 resolved to learn more and set out to compare the efficacy of cranberries with that of regular long-term antibiotic treatment administered in small preventive doses. A total of 137 women over 45 with a history of at least 2 episodes of cystitis over the course of the previous year took the following for six months:

  • Either 500mg of cranberry extracts;
  • Or 100mg of an effective UTI antibiotic called trimethoprim.

In the course of the study, 39 women developed cystitis (25 in the cranberry group, 14 in the other group), with recurrence at broadly similar intervals (respectively 84.5 and 91 days). More women under antibiotics had left the study (11 as opposed to 6 in the cranberry group). In both groups, the bacteria involved were mostly E. Coli. According to the authors, antibiotics have a slight advantage over cranberry extract in terms of efficacy, but they do have more side effects.  

These results should help women with recurring cystitis make a more educated choice about which of the two preventive alternatives to choose. It is also noteworthy that, in addition to its natural benefits and cheaper price, cranberries lower the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Last but not least, cranberries don’t have the same inconveniencing or dangerous side effects as regularly taken antibiotics, such as intestinal or vaginal fungal infections (thrush), and the rare though horrid pseudomembranous colitis, which is often, but not always, caused by the antibiotic-related bacterium Clostridium difficile.

1 – “Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections”, (Review) - the Cochrane Library 2009, Issue 1

2 – “Cranberry or trimethoprim for the prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections? A randomized controlled trial in older women.” Mc Murdo ME and coll. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2009 Feb; 63(2): 389-95. Epub  2008 Nov 28

Posted 28.09.2010

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