How Juicing can Help Bladder/Urinary Infections in Women
Even conventionally oriented doctors often recommend juicing when women come into their surgeries with a bladder infection. The commonly prescribed cranberry juice sweetened with Nutrasweet (aspartame), however, is only one of several juices that help help bladder infections.
Bladder Infections Aren’t Limited to the Bladder
While the colloquial term for cystitis in women is “bladder infection,” bladder infections are not strictly limited to the bladder. Infectious microorganisms in the bladder can “back up” into the kidneys to cause a condition known as pyelonephritis. Bacteria can infect the entire urinary tract, causing bacteriuria, and the urinary tract can also be overcome by yeast infection, causing candidiasis. Men also get bladder infections but require different treatments that are discussed in a separate article.
Women Are at Special Risk of Bladder Infections
The most common cause of bladder infections in women is E. coli. These bacteria ordinarily live in the lower digestive tract, but they are transferred to the vagina during personal hygiene following bowel movement, especially in young girls who do not know to wipe backward rather than forward. Bacterial infections are also common when a catheter is inserted, especially if it has to be inserted in an ambulance or emergency room, and in women who use spermicides or diaphragms for contraception. Inflammation and irritation caused by the infection injure the lining of the urinary tract and create new avenues for further infection.
What Juices Do that Antibiotics Cannot
Cranberry and blueberry juices do not contain natural antibiotics, but they have healing properties that antibiotics do not. Complex carbohydrates in these juices known as type A proanthocyanidins coat the lining of the urinary tract so that bacteria and yeast cannot insert their hyphae or “roots” into soft tissue. Bacteria can’t form a film over the lining of the urinary tract, and this makes it easier to remove the bacteria by drinking more water to stimulate more urination. Juices don’t cause bacterial resistance, and they don’t have side effects in the rest of the body.
Using Cranberry and Blueberry Juices in Ways that Work
The downside to treating bladder infections with cranberry or blueberry juice is that most people prefer to add a sweetener. When juice is sweetened with sugar, some of the sugar will spill over from the kidneys into the urine unless other sources of carbohydrate are restricted (and as little as two teaspoons or 10 grams of sugar can cause spillover of glucose into the urine in women who have diabetes). This sugar feeds the bacteria that the proanthocyanidins in the juice are intended to keep from colonizing the surface of the bladder. But it’s not just sugar that can cause problems:
E. coli bacteria require iron to be able to activate the “hooks” they put into the bladder wall. Taking iron supplements defeats the purpose of drinking cranberry or blueberry juice. Doubling the amount of iron in the bloodstream triples the number of bacteria that are able to feed on that iron to attach to the bladder. Do not take any iron supplements unless your physician has told you that you need them after reading the results of a blood test.
Several other foods contain type B proanthocyanidins that do not prevent bacteria from adhering to the lining of the urinary tract, including green tea and dark chocolate. Consuming green tea or chocolate within 2 hours of drinking cranberry or blueberry juice “dilutes” the antibacterial power of the juice.
It is possible to have more than one kind of bladder infection. The “anti-grab” chemicals in cranberry and blueberry juice will latch on to microorganisms in the urine stream before they attach to the wall of the bladder itself. If you have two different kinds of bladder infections at the same time, juice will only fight one—but that’s usually still a good thing.
The effects of cranberry juice are greatest during the six hours following ingestion. This means it is best to consume smaller amounts of juice more often, preferably at breakfast, at lunch, at dinner, and in the evening before going to bed. About 50 ml of cranberry juice (a little under 1/4 cup) or 100 ml of blueberry juice (a little under 1/2 cup) is an ideal dose if you are drinking juice four times a day. Drinking more than 100 ml of blueberry juice at one time may provide too much sugar, counteracting the benefits of the juice.
If cranberry juice is too sour for you, try diluting it with apple juice. Apple juice also contains proanthocyanidins that fight bladder infections. The most proanthocyanidins are found in Red Delicious apples (207.7 mg per serving), while the least proanthocyanidins are found in Golden Delicious apples (92.5 mg per serving). There is little or no variation in proanthocyanidin content in cranberry juice itself.
It is also helpful to take propolis when you are drinking juice to get bladder infections under control. The antioxidants in propolis (but not bee pollen or honey) make it more difficult for bacteria to use iron to “root” themselves and to reproduce once they have established themselves in a biofilm coating the bladder.
When using juice to treat bladder infections, don’t forget that juice just keeps bacteria from forming a film on the lining of the bladder and lower urinary tract. It’s water that flushes the bacteria away. Drink juice and water at different times, at least two hours apart. But be sure to drink the often-recommended 8 to 10 glasses of water per day to increase urination and decrease infection.
Do You Need to Make Juice from Organic Cranberries?
Readers often ask whether commercial cranberry juice is OK, or it is necessary to make juice at home from certified organic cranberries. From the standpoint of treating bladder infections, there is no difference between organic and conventionally raised cranberries. From the standpoint of general health, however, the major different between conventionally raised and organic cranberries is treatment with a chemical called ethylene bromide.
Ethylene bromide (also known as 1,2-dibromoethane) is used to fumigate berries to prevent mold. The problem with the use of this fumigant is that bromides released during the processing of ethylene bromide by the body compete with iodine for entry into the thyroid gland. The result is that the thyroid gland receives less iodine and makes less thyroid hormone. Only in rare instances of extremely high exposure does ethylene bromide cause hypothyroidism, but it can aggravate existing thyroid issues.
Although it is not possible to wash ethylene bromide off strawberries, it is possible to wash the chemical off cranberries. The berries have to be agitated in a pan of water rather than held under flowing water (which only rinses one side of the berry). If cranberries are properly washed, however, at least 70% of the ethylene bromide is removed, making them a safer, if not entirely safe, fruit for use in juicing.
Cranberries are more effective for fighting bladder infections than blueberries. The appeal of blueberries is that they are tasty alternative to the puckery cranberry. Be sure to remove moldy berries before making juice and to wash to remove any chemicals that may have been used during storage. Fortunately, organic blueberries are relatively easy to find and usually no more expensive (at least in North America) than blueberries that are conventionally raised.