FDA allows qualified claims for UTI risk reduction with cranberry products


The Food and Drug Administration will not object to qualified health claims that consumption of certain cranberry juice products and cranberry supplement products may reduce the risk of recurrent urinary tract infections in otherwise healthy women.

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In a letter of enforcement discretion issued on July 21, the FDA responded to a health claim petition submitted by Ocean Spray Cranberries. “A health claim characterizes the relationship between a substance and a disease or health-related condition,” according to the FDA. Ocean Spray Cranberries asked the FDA for an authorized health claim regarding the relationship between the consumption of cranberry beverages and supplements and a reduction in the risk of recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) in healthy women.

After reviewing the evidence, the FDA determined that the existing science did not support an authorized health claim, but did allow for a qualified health claim for certain cranberry juice beverages and supplements. A qualified health claim does not constitute an FDA approval; the FDA instead issues a Letter of Enforcement Discretion that includes language reflecting the level of scientific evidence for the claim.

The currently available scientific evidence for a relationship between cranberry and recurrent UTIs includes five intervention studies, according to the FDA letter. Two of these were high-quality, randomized, controlled trials in which daily consumption of a cranberry juice beverage was significantly associated with a reduced risk of recurrent UTIs. Another randomized, controlled trial yielded mixed results, and two other intervention studies that were moderate-quality, randomized, controlled trials showed no effect of cranberry juice consumption on UTI risk reduction.

The FDA’s letter of enforcement discretion states that, with regard to cranberry juice beverages, “Limited and inconsistent scientific evidence shows that by consuming one serving (8 oz) each day of a cranberry juice beverage, healthy women who have had a urinary tract infection may reduce their risk of recurrent UTI.”

Similarly, for cranberry dietary supplements, the FDA states that “Limited scientific evidence shows that, by consuming 500 mg each day of cranberry dietary supplement, healthy women who have had a urinary tract infection may reduce their risk of recurrent UTI.”

The qualified health claims apply specifically to cranberry juice beverages that contain at least 27% cranberry juice, and cranberry dietary supplements containing at least 500 mg of cranberry fruit powder. “The claims do not include other conventional foods or food products made from or containing cranberries, such as dried cranberries or cranberry sauce,” according to the FDA statement.

“With recurrent UTI, a major concern is the frequent use of antibiotics,” Constance Bohon, MD, an ob.gyn. in private practice in Washington and an assistant clinical professor at George Washington University, Washington, said in an interview.

“The challenge is to identify habits and/or nonantibiotic treatment to prevent recurrent UTI and decrease the need for antibiotics,” she said. “The regular use of cranberry can decrease the frequency of UTI in some, but not all, people.

“It does not appear to mask the symptoms of a UTI, so if it is not effective to prevent the infection, the presumptive diagnosis can be made based on the common symptoms,” she explained.

Dr. Bohon said that she has recommended the use of cranberry to some of her patients who have recurrent UTIs and has had success with many of them.

“I think it is important to make it clear that cranberry can be beneficial for some patients to decrease the frequency of UTI. It will not be effective for everyone who has frequent UTI, but for those who use it and have fewer UTIs, there will be less frequent exposure to antibiotics,” she emphasized. “What we need to know is who benefits the most from cranberry to prevent recurrent UTIs; whether age, race, coexisting health problems [such as diabetes], and use of hormonal contraception or menopause impact on its success.”

Dr. Bohon had no relevant financial conflicts to disclose.

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