Cranberry juice was just one of a long line of remedies I tried for UTIs. After years of on and off UTI symptoms, I found a solution, and I hope you can too.
If you landed on my story looking for an alternative to cranberry juice (because like me, you question its effectiveness), you might want to consider other remedies for UTI.
For instance, D-mannose, which is a compound found in cranberries (and other plants) that has been shown to be effective for UTIs caused by E. coli. I certainly would have tried it if I’d known about it back in 2012.
Story Quick Links
- Cranberry juice, short skirts and warm kidneys >>>>
- The escalation of my UTIs >>>>
- Life stress meant my UTIs were here to stay >>>>
- Look for support, talk to your friends about UTIs >>>>
- The doctor who helped me overcome UTIs >>>>
- The end of my recurrent UTIs >>>>
Other home remedies and the science behind them are covered in the UTI home remedies section on this site.
You can also read an inspiring story about overcoming chronic UTIs without antibiotics.
But back to my story first…
This story is about my discovery that there was more to my recurrent UTIs than I originally thought. I only truly recovered after I found the right doctor with the right approach.
Cranberry Juice, Short Skirts And Warm Kidneys
Taking precautions to prevent cystitis is one of those things I’ve been aware of as long as I can remember. The cranberry juice addiction came much later.
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…”
The Rise And Fall Of Cranberry Juice As My Go To UTI Remedy
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.
Back then I was convinced cranberry juice worked (don’t stop reading – this didn’t last!). I even brought some back to Germany for my Nana to try!
Now I know that scientific evidence for the use of cranberry juice for UTIs is very limited. The FDA in the US even released a statement in 2020 confirming that there is ‘limited and inconsistent’ evidence to support the use of cranberry products for UTI.
I was kind of surprised to learn that cranberry juice may not have helped at all, particularly given how many people believe it to be a UTI remedy. I guess that’s the way it is with a lot of remedies.
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.
When My Cystitis Returned
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. Cranberry juice wasn’t a very common drink in Germany back then and I thought the lack of it was why 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. Looking back, I think it worked because I thought it would work. The mind is a powerful tool!”
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, the frequency of my cystitis episodes reduced.
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 ditch the cranberry juice and take antibiotics mixed with painkillers. I managed to get rid of it.
The Escalation Of My UTIs (Cranberry Juice Didn’t Help!)
Then a second painful UTI happened after we had moved to Berlin in 2012. I blamed my almost yearly UTIs on the very cold German winter seasons mixed with honeymoon cystitis.
The first two years I could still battle my UTIs 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. She definitely didn’t mention cranberry juice. 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 on 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 Saw Doctor After Doctor For UTIs And Gut Health
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. Again, no mention of cranberry juice!
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.”
Look For Support, Talk To Your Friends About UTIs
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.
The Doctor Who Helped Me Overcome UTIs
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 empathetic. She didn’t question my use of cranberry juice or other home remedies. She 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 UTI 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!
The End Of My Recurrent UTIs
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 was done with cranberry juice and other UTI remedies that didn’t work.
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!