Researchers have found that cranberry juice made with high concentrations of proanthocyanidins (PACs) cut kids' risk of repeat urinary tract infections by two-thirds, versus a comparison juice.
Before you run out to the grocery store and buy a bottle of cranberry juice, the ones that were used in the study were not of the supermarket garden variety. The juice used for the study contained high levels of the key ingredient, proanthocyanidins. PACs are believed to be the compound that gives cranberries their bacteria fighting preventative punch.
Many of the juices found on grocery shelves are packed with sugar and mixed with other juices. The PACs levels are more likely to be lower.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, enlisted 40 children who had at least 2 urinary tract infections (UTI) in the past year. They randomly assigned the kids to drink one of two juices made for the study: a cranberry juice rich in PACs or a juice free of all "cranberry products."
Over the next year, kids who drank the cranberry juice with high PACs had UTIs at a rate of 0.4 per child, compared with 1.15 in the comparison group.
The power of cranberries against UTIs "was initially regarded as an old wives' tale," said Dr. Hiep Nguyen of Boston Children's Hospital, who was not involved in the study.
But Nguyen said he now often recommends cranberry - either juice or supplements - when kids have recurrent UTIs.
"It can be a great alternative to prophylactic (preventive) antibiotics," Nguyen said.
UTIs are very common in children. By the time the child is 5 years old, about 8% of girls and about 1-2% of boys will have had at least one episode.
UTIs are caused when bacteria infects the urinary tract which consists of the bladder, kidneys, ureters, and urethra. The E-coli bacteria is the most frequent cause of urinary tract infections. Sometimes an abnormality, urinary reflux (abnormal backward flow) or bubble baths or soaps can cause a UTI.
Treatment for UTIs is typically a prescription for an antibiotic. If a child has frequent UTIs, Nguyen said, antibiotics may be necessary to "break the cycle." On top of that, many children's UTIs are related to less-than-ideal bathroom habits - like "holding it in," rather than going when they need to. But recurrent antibiotic prescriptions can have long-term effects such as developing drug-resistant bacteria.
UTIs can be extremely painful and if they happen over and over, some children can suffer kidney damage. While cranberries don't appear to have any curative properties, they may be a preventative resource. Other preventative measures include frequent diaper changes to stop the bacteria from spreading. When a child is old enough to self-care, it's important to teach them good hygiene such as hand washing after they go to the bathroom. Girls in particular should be taught to wipe from front to rear to prevent germs from spreading from the rectum to the urethra. It's also a good idea for young girls to avoid bubble baths and strong soaps that can irritate the urethra. Cotton underwear, instead of nylon, should be worn because it's less likely to encourage bacteria growth.
Children should also be drinking sufficient amounts of water and never told to "hold it" if they need to urinate.
Nguyen agreed that cranberry juice can be tricky. "Pure cranberry juice often doesn't taste so good," he noted. Natural artificial sweeteners may help. Many people simply add a lot of sugar to 100% cranberry juice, but too much sugar isn't healthy and a lot of sugary juice could give your child diarrhea, so it's important not to over-do cranberry or any other juice. In this study, the daily dose prescribed to each child was based on body weight.
Cranberry tablets are the other option. But no one knows the exact dose needed to prevent any one child's UTIs. Right now, it's basically a matter of following the product's labeling, according to Nguyen.
Ocean Spray supplied both juices used in the study, although the researchers made it known that "The findings of this study should not be construed as an endorsement of any commercially available cranberry products."
The study was published in the Journal of Urology.
Urinary tract infections can be a serious problem for children. Symptoms in young children and infants may be very general. The child may seem irritable, begin to feed poorly, or vomit. Sometimes the only symptom is a fever that seems to appear for no reason and doesn't go away.
In older kids and adults, symptoms can reveal which part of the urinary tract is infected. In a bladder infection, the child may have:
- Pain, burning, or a stinging sensation when peeing
- An increased urge to urinate or frequent urination (though only a very small amount of urine may be produced)
- Fever (though this is not always present)
- Frequent night waking to go to the bathroom
- Wetting problems, even though the child is toilet taught
- Low back pain or abdominal pain in the area of the bladder (generally below the navel)
- Foul-smelling urine that may look cloudy or contain blood
Many of these symptoms are also seen in a kidney infection, but the child often appears more ill and is more likely to have a fever with shaking chills, pain in the side or back, severe fatigue, or vomiting.
If your child exhibits any of the above symptoms be sure and notify your pediatrician or family doctor. If you cannot reach them, then take your child to a local emergency room.
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