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Cranberries vs. Antibiotics For Preventing Bladder Infections


handful of cranberries

Keep buying those cranberry capsules, ladies.

That's because the first study to directly compare cranberries -- the popular home remedy for preventing bladder infections -- with antibiotics, found that while antibiotics are more effective,  they also put women at greater risk for other problems because of  antibiotic resistance.

The new Dutch study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that a 500 mg. cranberry capsule twice a day may be the best approach for preventing urinary tract infections for women concerned about drug-resistant bacteria.

While the year-long study followed 221 premenopausal women who were suffering from chronic bladder infections, the results are encouraging for postmenopausal women, who are at an increased risk for these infections. After menopause, low estrogen levels makes vaginal tissues more vulnerable to bacteria.

In the study, half of the women were randomly chosen to be treated  with a daily low-dose of the antibiotic Bactrim, while half took a cranberry capsule twice a day. Unlike antibiotics, which kill bacteria, cranberries keep bacteria from attaching to the bladder walls.

After a year, the women taking Bactrim had gotten about two infections, while the women taking the cranberry capsules had gotten four. After just one month, however, 86 percent of the bacteria samples from the antibiotic-treated women were already showing signs of antibiotic resistance, compared to less than 30 percent in the cranberry group.

While bladder infections are not serious if treated quickly, they are common in women and can lead to more serious kidney infections. It's estimated that between a third and half of all women will get a repeat bladder infection within a year of the first infection, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A note of caution: Cranberry capsules can't cure a bladder infection once it starts, it's merely a preventive. Women should promptly see their doctor if they suspect they have an infection.

For women wary of antibiotic side effects, gynecologist Megan Schimpf of the University of Pennsylvania's medical school tells that there are other choices to prevent infections.

She has her patients take cranberry capsules as well as a urinary antiseptic medication called  Hiprex (methenamine), both of which help prevent bacteria from growing.

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