Cranberry Juice Was Nothing More Than A Placebo

By Annet B.

6 mins

Cranberry juice was just one of a long line of remedies I tried for UTIs. Taking precautions to prevent cystitis is one of those things I’ve been aware of as long as I can remember.

Even when I was a teenager my Nan would tell me ‘Wear a vest dear, you need to keep your kidneys warm.’ Or ‘This skirt is too short, you’ll get sick.’

And I listened!

Because I absolutely adored my Nana; she was pretty much the only adult in my family that I would listen to during those rebellious years.

“My Nana was the only one in our family that regularly suffered from bad cases of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Back then I had no idea that I would inherit that tendency…”

When I was 19 I moved from Germany to London and spent the next 4 years at university. Although the colder seasons in England are a lot milder than in Germany, I’d sometimes come down with a minor case of cystitis after staying out clubbing in November wearing nothing but a dress and heels.

It was then that I was introduced to Ocean Spray cranberry juice. I drank it religiously if I had even the slightest feeling of discomfort.

It always worked one hundred percent back then (don’t stop reading – this didn’t last!). I even brought some back to Germany for my Nana to try!

After graduating I returned for a brief time to Germany and started working as a fashion designer in Hannover. I wasn’t very happy about having to leave the UK.

It was a very stressful time mentally as well as physically as I was working full-time with a two hour commute each way – experiencing the strains of the fashion industry like tight deadlines and long office hours for the first time.

After a few months I got quite a severe case of cystitis. I was in a lot of pain and all I could think was: Where can I get some Ocean Spray cranberry juice?

I was trying to flush out the bacteria as usual, by drinking loads of tea and water, but cranberry juice wasn’t a very common drink in Germany back then and I didn’t get better.

So I started a big online search and found some cranberry juice at local health stores, but different brands. They didn’t help at all. Then finally I found a supermarket in a town nearby where I could get hold of the Ocean Spray brand – and I was fine again.

At this point I should add that I’ve always been in tune with my body and never thought much of conventional drugs and antibiotic prescriptions. I generally adapted well to self-healing methods and was quite good at talking myself out of an illness.

“The fact that only one kind of cranberry juice helped might very well have been an ongoing placebo based on personal expectations.”

When Cranberry Juice For UTIs Let Me Down

After just 8 months in Hannover I returned to England to take up a new job, and with the milder climate, I hardly got cystitis anymore.

My mum had also introduced me to the Louise Hay books about loving your body. So whenever I felt the slightest discomfort or burning sensation coming on I would read the ‘I love my bladder’ section again and again until I could say the little verse by heart. Then I was fine.

The first serious relapse of the disease happened in my early thirties when I had two small toddlers and was working full-time.

“My body was so run down from running a family as well as working overtime, that I got cystitis yet again.”

As I had just started my new job I couldn’t afford to be sick so I decided to take antibiotics mixed with painkillers and got rid of it.

The second UTI happened after we had moved to Berlin in 2012. I blame my almost yearly UTIs on the very cold German winter seasons mixed with honeymoon cystitis.

The first two years I could still battle it by drinking loads of fluid, cranberry juice and the odd dose of ibuprofen if I caught it early enough.

But in our second year in Berlin these measures didn’t work anymore. I was trying to apply the usual mix and after being pain-free for one day I’d think, super, I can stop resting now.

That was a mistake; the pain came back with a vengeance and was much worse than before!

“When my doctor tested my urine she said there weren’t enough bacteria to require antibiotics.”

She suggested resting for one week and regularly applying heat. I already knew from my Nan that warmth was a good way to battle bladder issues. Many times when I went to visit her she would be sitting under a red light lamp.

So I sat on the sofa for a week, with my hot water bottle literally strapped to me! We had booked a trip to England the next week to celebrate my birthday but even when we got up at 3am to catch our flight, I still wasn’t sure whether I would be able to go!

Amazingly, I didn’t feel any pain going to the toilet, and even after quite a long journey to London I was feeling totally fine.

I didn’t think about it much again for months, until we had just moved apartments and Mikael, my husband, was told that he had to travel for work each week. He would be home only at weekends for a whole year!


Life Stress Meant My UTIs Were Here To Stay

So I was on my own looking after my two kids and trying to settle into a new apartment at the same time as trying to establish myself as a self-employed designer.

“I was coping fine until I started to develop an irritable bladder, which I’d never had before. I couldn’t even hold on until I got home after picking my kids up from school because I needed the toilet so badly.”

When I told my mum she said she also experienced that when she was younger, during a very stressful period of her life. So I didn’t worry much about it and tried to talk myself out of it as I normally did.

When Christmas arrived and the cold really hit Berlin I got a UTI once again.  Like the time before, I put it down to being cold, and honeymoon cystitis.

After herbal pills such as Cystinol (Bearberry extract) and Angocin (another herbal supplement for UTI) failed to work, my doctor advised me to take Monurol, a single dose antibiotic. However, I decided not to take it. I was worried about the side effects.

Due to the ongoing stress, my stomach had also started to play up. I was constantly constipated and suffered from anxiety attacks. My stomach lining was not in good shape – I knew I would make it worse by taking the antibiotics.

I figured the reason why my natural healing methods and cranberry juice therapy weren’t working was because my immune system (which sits mainly in your gut!) was so run down.

So my theory was that if I fixed my stomach problems first, I’d be able to better battle my UTI.

I embarked on the longest run of health practitioners I’ve ever been on – I tried acupuncture and osteopathy without improvement and even consulted a homeopath from the States that I had found on one of my countless online searches and who described the very same symptoms I had. When she told me her fee though, I politely declined.

I was feeling really lucky to be living in a country with national health insurance in place. I went to see a very good gastroenterologist who put me on a special diet and eventually solved my stomach problems.

He also tried to help me with my bladder infection and prescribed a nosode therapy –  homeopathic preparations made from one’s own bodily fluids as well as a homeopathic remedy called Uva-ursi complex.

Both really seemed to work for a bit but after a few days the pain started to come back. I blamed the fact that I had never had a whole week to completely rest with my hot water bottle as I did the year before.

But now six months(!) of constant UTIs had passed and I was not feeling any improvement.

“I was not going to give up – I knew one day I would be rid of it. I swore I would not suffer from recurrent UTIs for the rest of my life like my Nan did.”


So Began My Search For Better UTI Information

I looked in online forums for women with similar symptoms to mine; I took up yoga, running and Pilates. This all made me feel great and did a world of good for my still weak digestive system. But the UTIs continued.

I also started to talk about it to my friends. That was something I normally don’t do; talking about illness never seemed a great conversational topic to me. It always reminded me of something old ladies would do. But this time I felt I had to share it.

During this whole experience I’d never felt like reaching out, which is quite normal if you don’t feel well.

“Because it went on for so long I completely lost touch with everyone. It felt very good when I finally decided to talk about it, and I realized that some of my friends had very similar stories to tell!”

One girlfriend recommended her urologist to me. She’d had an operation to help with a urethral narrowing and that got rid of all her complaints, so she encouraged me to investigate deeper.

I went to see the urologist before Christmas. By then it had almost been a year since my UTI had started. She was very professional and took urine samples directly from the bladder via a catheter plus another sample from my urethra.

I had to submit urine samples at different times of day so she could track everything. This seemed like much better testing than I’d had previously.

“My first rounds of tests came back without any alarming results. But my doctor persevered, and with more testing she discovered there was a huge amount of bacteria in my morning urine samples.”

So she started to grow the bacteria to find out which drugs would work best to fight them, and prescribed me antibiotics accordingly.

Due to all the exercise and my new healthy diet my stomach felt much better, so I decided it was time to give these antibiotics a go.

After the second day I could already feel the pain ebbing away, and by the time New Year’s came around I was celebrating!

I was so grateful to have found a doctor who could help, and who didn’t give up when my first tests came back negative.

“She believed I knew my own body and she trusted that my symptoms were a real sign of infection, even if the tests didn’t show it at first. I just wish I’d had the right information sooner…”

I promised myself that I’d been through enough suffering from UTIs to last for a whole lifetime.

I made my best New Year’s resolution yet: My body has the strength to outgrow my proneness to UTI and I will never be sick from it again.

And after 15 years of recurrent UTIs, I can happily say that at the time of writing this, I’m 263 days UTI free!


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Lucia says:

So how do you keep your body in optimal health? That there is no space for another UTI anymore?

Hi Lucia, a UTI is just like any other infection – there is no way to completely eliminate the possibility of a future UTI. Research is beginning to reveal ways we may be able to influence our urinary microbiome, and we hope in the next few years this will result in actionable steps for patients. If you have specific questions for Annett, you can send us a direct message and I’ll happily pass them on. Melissa

Katelyn says:

I had my annual gynecological visit and mentioned an increased vaginal discharge. A sample sent to the lab and bacteria was found and RX 10 days of Augmentin. Last day of taking Augmentin I felt frequent urge to urinate and uncomfort. Since then I called my gynecologist’s office and was referred to my general practitioner. At that appointment the dip stick test came back negative for bacteria but there was some blood in my urine. She prescribed Nitrofurantoin 2x a day for 7 days. A culture was also sent out which has since come back negative for bacteria but also showed blood in my urine. Now after taking 5 doses I still have a frequent urge to urinate. I’m wondering if it is typical for it to take this much time for the antibiotics to kick in?

Hi Katelyn, there could be many reasons for your symptoms. If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to learn more about standard UTI testing and why your results may be negative despite your symptoms. It also helps to understand how antibiotics are prescribed for UTI, and why your current treatment may not be helping. Ultimately, it’s always best to discuss your continuing symptoms with your doctor, so they can help assess why this is happening. Melissa

Katelyn says:

Thank you Melissa. I spoke to my doctor today, 8 doses into Nitrofurantoin, I am still feeling the same symptoms. Frequent urge to urinate and general discomfort, however no pain when urinating. I was instructed to stop taking the antibiotics as that could be what’s causing the discomfort. I’ve been instructed to continue water intake and get another urinalysis again in a week. I am concerned that my last urinalysis showed blood but no bacteria. The blood is concerning and I am hopeful for improvement and a clear sample next week. I read many of your recommended articles which will be helpful in further conversations with my doctor. Thank you.

Hi Katelyn, thanks for the update. I hope your symptoms improve and that you find answers soon. You can always get in touch directly if you’d like more info about anything. Thanks for the positive feedback about our site, I’m glad you’ve found it helpful 🙂 Melissa

Giuliana says:

I moved to Germany 1 year and half ago. Never had episodes of UTI’s but already one year ago I have one every 60 days more or less. I tired everything, from Natural medicine to antibiotics. Can you please advise the urologist in Germany that helped you?

Hi Giuliana, are you able to send me a direct message and I can ask Annett if she is able to provide further information? Melissa

Anneliese Klein says:

What diet are you on to improve your gut bacteria?

Hi Anneliese, Janet gradually improved her diet over time, using trial and error to find what worked for her, rather than following a specific diet. If you’re interested in making changes in your own diet, it might help to get a nutrition expert on board to guide you. Melissa

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