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Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)

These tangy, ruby-red berries have long been considered nature's cure for the urinary tract infections that frequently plaque women of all ages.  Modern science has now confirmed the merit of this piece of folk wisdom.

What it is?

The cranberry, a plant native of America that is closely related to the blueberry, has been used for centuries in both healing and cooking.  The name is a shortened form of craneberry – the flowers of the low-growing shrub were thought to resemble the heads of the cranes that frequented the bogs where it grew.  The berries are now widely cultivated throughout the United States, and also in Australia and New Zealand.  In earlier times, American doctors used crushed berries as poultices to treat wounds and tumours, and also used the crushed berries as a remedy for scurvy, a gum and bleeding disorder caused by a deficiency of vitamin C.  In this century, medicinal interest in cranberry has focused on its important role in preventing and treating urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are caused by Escherichia coli and other types of bacteria.

What it does?

In the 1920s, it was discovered that people who ate large amounts of cranberries produces a more acidic urine, and that the urine was purified in the process.  During this purification process, a powerful substance called hippuric acid was produced.  It proved to have a strong antibiotic effect on the urinary tract.  In fact, it discouraged, and sometimes even eliminated, infection-causing bacteria.

More recent studies, however, indicate that cranberry's main infection-fighting capabilities may be due to a different property.  Cranberry appears to inhibit the adhesion of harmful micro-organisms to certain cells lining the urinary tract.  This makes the environment a less hospitable place for E. coli and other bacteria to replicate, and thus reduces the likelihood of infection.  Scientists have isolated two substances that produce this effect.  One is fructose, a sugar that is found in many fruit juices.  The other is a poorly understood compound present in cranberry and blueberry juices but absent from grapefruit, orange, guava, mango and pineapple juices.

Major Benefits

Scientists have now confirmed the effectiveness of cranberry in preventing and treating UTIs.  Several studies have shown that daily consumption of cranberry, either in juice or capsule form, dramatically reduces the recurrence of UTIs.  Women are 10 times more likely to develop these infections than men – in fact, 25-35% of women in the age range 20-40 have had at least one.  There's no reason, however, why men can't benefit from cranberry as well.

Cranberry also seems to shorten the course of urinary tract illness, helping to alleviate pain, burning, itching and other symptoms.  But it's important to remember that persistent UTIs should be treated promptly with antibiotics to prevent more serious complications.  However, cranberry juice can safely be taken along with conventional drugs.  It may even help hasten healing, and is also an excellent preventative.

Additional Benefits

Because it helps to deodorize urine, cranberry should be in the diet of anyone suffering from the embarrassing odours associated with incontinence.  In addition, cranberry's high vitamin C content makes it a natural vitamin supplement.

Common Uses

  • Treats lower urinary tract infections (also called bladder infections or cystitis) and bladder inflammations.
  • May prevent recurrence of urinary tract infections or inflammation.
  • Helps to deodorize urine.


  • Capsule.
  • Tablet.
  • Soft gel.
  • Liquid/tincture.
  • Fresh or dried fruit.
  • Tea.


  • Cranberry is not a substitute for antibiotics during an acute urinary tract infection (UTI).  See your doctor if you don't feel better after 24-36 hours of using cranberry for a suspected UTI.
  • See your doctor right away if symptoms include fever, chills, back pain, or blood in the urine, which may be signs of a kidney infection (upper UTI) requiring medical attention.
  • Reminder:  If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.

How to take it?


To help treat urinary tract infections:  You should get about 800 mg of cranberry extract a day (two 400 mg pills).  Or you can drink at least 500 ml of undiluted juice a day or take it in tincture form (follow the package directions.
To prevent recurrences:  The dose can be cut in half to 400 mg of cranberry a day.

Guidelines for use:

Cranberry can be taken with or without food.  Drinking plenty of water or other fluids along with cranberry and throughout the day should speed recovery.  Cranberry has no known interactions with antibiotics or other medications.  But by acidifying the urine, cranberry may lessen the effect of another herb sometimes used for UTIs called uva ursi (also known as bearberry).  Try one or the other.

Possible side effect

There are no known side effects from either the short-term or long-term use of cranberry.  In addition, cranberry appears to be safe for pregnant and breast-feeding women.

Shopping Hints

  • For best medical effect, choose cranberry capsules or undiluted, unsweetened juice (which contains higher concentrations of the active ingredients) over presweetened juice.  The processed commercial product (cranberry juice) is only one-third cranberry juice with added water and sweeteners to mask the berry's tart taste.
  • High-quality undiluted cranberry juice can be found at health-food shops.  To make it palatable, mix it with apple or pear juice to taste.

Latest Findings

  •  A major study in the Journal of American Medical Association looked at 153 elderly women (average age 78) who had no urinary tract symptoms.  Half the women drank 300 ml (just over a cup) of undiluted cranberry juice every day, and the other half received a placebo.  After four to eight weeks, those who drank the cranberry juice were much less prone to urinary tract infections and had lower levels of potentially harmful bacteria in their urine.
  • Research confirms that cranberry is effective for younger as well as older women.  In a study in Utah, women in the age range 28-44 who took cranberry capsules (400 mg a day) for three months were only 40% as likely to have a urinary tract infection as the women who were given a placebo.

Did you know?

You would have to eat 2 cups of cranberries to get the equivalent of two 400 mg cranberry capsules.