Cranberries (particularly in the form of cranberry juice) have been used widely for several decades for the prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections (UTIs). The aim of this review is to assess the effectiveness of cranberries in preventing such infections.
To assess the effectiveness of cranberry juice and other cranberry products in preventing UTIs in susceptible populations.
Electronic databases and the Internet were searched using English and non English language terms; companies involved with the promotion and distribution of cranberry preparations were contacted; reference lists of review articles and relevant trials were searched. Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL - the Cochrane Library, issue 1, 2003) was searched in February 2003.
All randomised or quasi randomised controlled trials of cranberry juice/products for the prevention of urinary tract infections in susceptible populations. Trials of men, women or children were included.
Two reviewers independently assessed and extracted information. Information was collected on methods, participants, interventions and outcomes (urinary tract infections (symptomatic and asymptomatic), side effects and adherence to therapy). RR were calculated where appropriate, otherwise a narrative synthesis was undertaken. Quality was assessed using the Cochrane criteria.
Seven trials met the inclusion criteria (four cross-over, three parallel group). The effectiveness of cranberry juice (or cranberry-lingonberry juice) versus placebo juice or water was evaluated in six trials, and the effectiveness of cranberries tablets versus placebo was evaluated in two trials (one study evaluated both juice and tablets). In two good quality RCTs, cranberry products significantly reduced the incidence of UTIs at twelve months (RR 0.61 95% CI:0.40 to 0.91) compared with placebo/control in women. One trial gave 7.5 g cranberry concentrate daily (in 50 ml), the other gave 1:30 concentrate given either in 250 ml juice or in tablet form. There was no significant difference in the incidence of UTIs between cranberry juice versus cranberry capsules (RR 1.11 95% CI:0.49 to 2.50). Five trials were not included in the meta-analyses due to methodological flaws or lack of available data. However, only one reported a significant result for the outcome of symptomatic UTIs. Side effects were common in all trials, and dropouts/withdrawals in several of the trials were high.
There is some evidence from two good quality RCTs that cranberry juice may decrease the number of symptomatic UTIs over a 12 month period in women. If it is effective for other groups such as children and elderly men and women is not clear. The large number of dropouts/withdrawals from some of the trials indicates that cranberry juice may not be acceptable over long periods of time. In addition it is not clear what is the optimum dosage or method of administration (e.g. juice or tablets). Further properly designed trials with relevant outcomes are needed.