I plan for this website to focus more on alternative medicines and overall wellness; this will include Chinese as well as more “Western” complementary medicines. So, let’s talk about the very popular home remedies involving urinary tract issues. Many women with bladder infections (“cystitis”, UTIs) use cranberry juice, and many men swear that saw palmetto works for their enlarged prostate symptoms. Do they actually work?
The Data, Please
One of my favorite websites to review natural medicines is the U.S. National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. They have excellent, readable reviews of many herbs and therapies, as well as good referencing of relevant studies. They have one page dedicated to bladder infections and commonly used cranberry, as well as saw palmetto’s effectiveness in the male-centered problem of enlarged prostate.
The best studies to date show that regular intake of cranberry juice does have some effect on decreasing the recurrence of bladder infections in women that get them often, but a 2009 review by the Cochrane group found no great evidence that it helps decrease an acute infection. It’s possible that it does; it just didn’t find enough high-quality studies to prove either side.
As for saw palmetto helping men with prostate symptoms, Cochrane and other reviews do show some improvement in men’s symptoms, and the medicine is considered safe as well. But the overall endorsement still recommends further studies.
I think cranberry juice does little harm, and women who suffer from frequent bladder infections may benefit from a daily intake of cranberry after discussing with their doctor. As for men, I think there’s enough data to support saw palmetto as a safe alternative for those with minor symptoms, again as long as they’ve discussed it with their doctor and ruled out more serious causes of their symptoms.
There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding alternative medicines, and it’s crucial to stick to the most honest sources. Besides the links above, another of my favorite websites for evidence-based natural medicine is the Natural Medicines Database. They have one page dedicated to bladder infections and another for prostate problems.
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