Urinary Tract Infections

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (2001), urinary tract infections (UTI) resulted in over 8.5 million doctor visits in 1997. These infections are painful and can lead to serious infections of other organs, usually the kidneys. Interstitial cystitis afflicts about 500,000 Americans annually; 90% of these sufferers are women. As much as half of the older women in long-term care facilities or hospitals may suffer from UTIs (Monane, et al.1995). UTIs tend to recur, but statistics on the recurrence rate are not available. Prevention of these infections can significantly reduce medical expenses and improve quality of life for persons prone to recurrent infections.

UTIs develop when bacteria, and occasionally yeasts and fungi, are introduced into the normally sterile urinary tract, which consists of the bladder and ureters. Microbes may enter the tract in a number of ways, primarily from sexual intercourse, poor hygiene, and catheters. Painful and frequent urination, burning, and fever result when the bacteria multiply. Conventional medical therapy consists of antibiotic administration along with increased consumption of water. The additional liquid is believed to aid in flushing bacteria from the tissues. In the past few years, the medical community and the public have become concerned about the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Recurrent UTIs treated with the same antibiotic could lead to selection for drug-resistant bacteria. Without an effective antibiotic, such bacteria could proliferate and spread to the kidneys and other vital organs.

Concerns about antibiotics and other medications have spurred more Americans to seek alternative, "natural" treatments for ailments. One widely accepted concept is the use of cranberry juice cocktail to prevent or treat UTIs. Although the earliest history of this practice is not known, many people assume that Native Americans discovered the beneficial properties of cranberries (V. macrocarpon) before the arrival of European colonists. The first scientific study of the medicinal properties of cranberry products was published in 1923. Nearly 80 years later, the medical community is still divided over the actual benefits of cranberry juice for UTIs.

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