You may have heard that your diet can affect your susceptibility to urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Many websites claim that you should avoid certain foods and beverages while optimizing your intake of others to treat and prevent recurrent UTIs.

However, many of these recommendations aren’t backed by sound science, leaving many people to question whether any dietary pattern or specific foods can treat or prevent UTIs.

This article explains how your diet contributes to UTIs and suggests evidence-based lifestyle and dietary modifications that may help prevent and treat UTIs.

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Photography by Aya Brackett

Although many websites claim that your diet has a lot to do with UTIs, there’s a lack of evidence supporting this association.

While some studies have shown that certain beverages and dietary patterns may increase susceptibility to UTIs, there’s limited research on how your diet affects your risk of developing UTIs, or whether certain foods and beverages can limit the length or severity of a UTI.

In fact, according to research, your diet and fluid intake are not considered independent risk factors for UTIs (1).

Still, the available research on dietary pattern, foods, and drinks that may affect your risk of developing a UTI is covered in the following section.

Summary

Research on the connection between diet and UTIs is lacking, and diet isn’t currently considered an independent risk factor for UTI development. However, some evidence suggests that certain dietary patterns may protect against UTIs.

Some research suggests that certain dietary patterns may protect against UTIs. Plus, some foods and beverages have been associated with an increased risk of developing UTIs.

Plant-based diets

Studies have linked plant-based diets to a lower risk of developing a UTI.

For example, a 2020 study that followed 9,724 Buddhists for 9 years found that a vegetarian dietary pattern was associated with a 16% reduced risk of developing a UTI. This protective effect was mainly seen in women (2).

Researchers have suggested that certain foods, including poultry and pork, act as “food reservoirs” for bacterial strains of E. coli called extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC), which account for 65–75% of all UTIs (2).

This means that food reservoirs may be a vehicle for transmission of ExPEC. The researchers in the 2020 study suggested that because vegetarians avoid common food reservoirs of ExPEC, vegetarian dietary patterns may help protect against UTIs (2).

Another way that vegetarian diets may help protect against UTIs is that they make urine less acidic. Research has shown that when urine is less acidic and more neutral, it helps prevent the growth of bacteria associated with UTIs (3).

Red meat and other animal proteins have high potential renal acid loads (PRALs), meaning that they make urine more acidic. Conversely, fruits and vegetables have low PRALs, making urine less acidic (4, 5, 6).

These factors could explain why plant-based diets may help protect against UTIs. Still, more research on this potential protective effect is needed.

Beverages that may increase or reduce UTI risk

Studies have also found a connection between the consumption of certain beverages and UTIs.

Older research has shown that soda intake may be associated with recurrent UTIs. An older study from 1985 in 225 women demonstrated that drinking cola soft drinks was strongly associated with UTIs (1, 7).

Some studies have likewise shown that certain beverages can act as irritants to the bladder and are connected to lower urinary tract symptoms.

A study in 30 women found that reducing potentially irritating foods and beverages, including coffee, tea, alcohol, and carbonated and artificially sweetened beverages, reduced lower urinary tracts symptoms, including how urgently and frequently they needed to urinate (8).

However, the researchers could not determine whether the reduction in symptoms was caused by the reduction of one or all of the potentially irritating beverages (8).

Another study that included 4,145 adults also found associations between coffee and soda intake and infections of the lower urinary tract (9).

Conversely, some studies have shown that certain foods and beverages may help reduce the risk of UTIs.

A 2003 study that included 324 women found that frequently drinking freshly squeezed, 100% juice — especially berry juice, as well as consuming fermented dairy products like yogurt, was associated with a decreased risk of UTI occurrence (10).

The aforementioned study in 4,145 men and women showed that citrus juice intake was associated with a 50% reduction in lower urinary tract symptoms in men only (9).

Additionally, increasing water intake may help reduce UTI occurrence in certain populations.

A 2019 study in older adults living at nursing homes found that increasing hydration to support the daily fluid intake recommendation of 6–8 glasses of water per day reduced UTIs requiring antibiotics by 58% and UTIs requiring hospital admission by 36% (11).

Another study in 140 women with recurrent UTIs who drank less than 51 ounces (1.5 liters) of water per day found that increasing daily water intake by 51 ounces (1.5 liters) over 1 year protected against recurrent UTIs, compared with women who didn’t increase their intake (12).

Although increasing water intake may be a way to reduce UTIs in certain populations, more studies investigating this potential link are needed, as most studies on this topic are outdated (13, 14).

Potential bladder irritants

When you have a UTI, avoiding potentially bladder-irritating beverages, such as coffee, tea, soda, alcohol, and artificially sweetened beverages like diet sodas, is a good idea and may help decrease symptoms (15).

Also, some research shows that certain foods and beverages, including spicy peppers, alcohol, tea, soda, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and some fruits and juices, may worsen symptoms of bladder-related conditions like bladder pain syndrome/interstitial cystitis (BPS/IC) (16, 17).

However, these conditions are distinct from UTIs.

While it makes sense to cut these foods and beverages out for potential relief, there’s currently no strong evidence that avoiding certain foods or beverages will help cure or significantly reduce symptoms of UTIs.

Keep in mind that this article doesn’t address supplements in relation to preventing or treating UTIs. Research shows that certain supplements, including probiotics and cranberry, may help prevent and treat UTIs (18, 19).

Summary

Some evidence suggests that vegetarian diets may protect against UTIs. Drinking soda and coffee may increase your risk of UTIs and irritate your bladder. Staying hydrated and consuming freshly squeezed juice and fermented dairy may help reduce UTI risk.

In addition to trying out some of the dietary recommendations listed above, lifestyle changes may help reduce your risk of developing a UTI.

Risk factors associated with UTI occurrence include (1, 20):

  • having a compromised immune system
  • frequent intercourse of four or more times per week
  • estrogen deficiency
  • anatomical abnormalities of the urogenital tract
  • bladder dysfunction
  • new sex partners and spermicide use, which may alter vaginal pH
  • family history of UTIs or UTIs during childhood
  • having a non-secretor blood type, which means your blood group antigens aren’t present in bodily fluids like tears, saliva, urine, or breast milk
  • changes in bacterial flora

Other factors claimed to increase your chances of developing a UTI include wearing tight underwear, hot tub use, not urinating after sex, and douching, although strong evidence to support these claims is lacking (20).

While you may not be able to influence some of these factors, if you frequently get UTIs, trying to avoid risk factors that are under your control, as well as making certain dietary and lifestyle changes, may help.

However, keep in mind that there’s currently a lack of strong evidence to suggest that any foods or beverages can treat or prevent UTIs.

Moreover, it’s essential that you see your healthcare provider if you’re getting frequent UTIs so that you can get proper treatment. Untreated UTIs can lead to serious complications, including urosepsis, a potentially life threatening infection (21).

Summary

Certain lifestyle modifications may help reduce UTI occurrence and UTI symptoms. However, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider if you frequently get UTIs. Leaving a UTI untreated can result in life threatening complications.

Although some studies show that certain dietary changes may help lower your risk of UTIs and reduce certain bladder-related symptoms, research in this area is currently lacking.

Following a more plant-based diet, increasing your fluid intake, and removing potential bladder irritants like soda, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and coffee from your diet may help prevent UTIs from occurring and ease symptoms.

However, more research exploring the potential association between diet and UTIs is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

If you frequently get bladder infections, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider so you can get proper treatment and advice. They can help you start feeling better and prevent UTI-related complications.