LONDON (AP) _ New research adds credibility to the belief that cranberry juice might prevent urinary tract infections, a misery that up to 60 percent of women endure at some point during their lives.
Women have been drinking cranberry juice for cystitis, or urinary tract infection, for years, but the remedy has never really been scientifically proven.
A study published in the British Medical Journal this week found that women who had suffered a bout of cystitis were half as likely to get a recurrence within six months if they drank a glass of cranberry juice a day.
However, the research by scientists at the University of Oulu in Finland is not definitive, experts say.
``This is another piece in the jigsaw puzzle, underlining that there may be some solid science behind this idea,'' said Kevin Kerr, a urinary tract infection expert who was not involved in the latest study.
``It is becoming apparent that there may be something to this, that this may not be an old wives' tale after all, but this study certainly isn't definitive,'' said Kerr, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Leeds in England
The study involved 150 Finnish women who had a urinary tract infection but were not taking antibiotics. One third of the women were given one glass of cranberry-ligonberry juice per day for six months, another third were given a milky drink containing high concentrations of friendly bacteria for five days a week for a year and the rest were given neither.
The women were tested for cystitis whenever they reported suspicious symptoms, such as burning during urination, bloody urine or frequent and urgent need to urinate.
Six months later, 16 percent of the women in the cranberry group had had another urinary tract infection. That compared with 39 percent in the friendly bacteria group and 36 percent among those who received no treatment.
Cystitis is caused when the bladder becomes inflamed because it has been invaded by bacteria that normally live in the bowel. The condition mostly affects women because of the proximity of the two areas. It is common among the elderly but also often occurs in sexually active young women, who can develop ``honeymoon cystitis.''
Doctors estimate there are at least 300 million cases of urinary tract infections worldwide each year. In the United States, there are about 11.5 million cases per year. The infections are normally treated with antibiotics, but experts worry that the bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to the drugs.
More than 90 percent of the time, the culprit is the bacterium E. coli.
Laboratory studies have suggested that cranberry juice might prevent E. coli from sticking to the wall of the bladder.
One of the problems with the latest study was that each woman knew which treatment she was getting and diagnosis of infection depended on the women reporting symptoms, said Dr. Gregor Reid, a professor of microbiology at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.
Women getting no treatment could be more likely to report suspicious symptoms than those getting cranberry juice if they believed the cranberry could cure the infection, he said. A better indication would have been to automatically test urine samples from all the women every week, he added.
But that factor is unlikely to have explained all the apparent benefit seen in the cranberry group, said Reid, who was not connected with the study.