Urinary tract infections: pass the horseradish?

Dr. Oz, whose hyperbolic medical claims are the bane of most doctors’ existence, just tweeted another whopper:

#OZTip To prevent UTI’s naturally, take 2 teaspoons of horseradish per day. Horseradish contains oils that have anti-bacterial properties.

This raises a couple of questions. First, can horseradish prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs)? Second, who needs prevention?

Let’s start with the second question. Most UTIs are a one time affair. You get it, you take antibiotics, and that’s that. But for a number of people, UTIs become a recurrent problem, whether because of an immune problem, behavioral factors, an anatomic problem, or, most often, random happenstance.

[Digression: the causes of UTI are complex and interesting, but much of it comes down to bowel bacteria being awfully close to the urethra, especially in women.]

There is a decent body of literature on recurrent UTIs, including evaluation of prophylaxis with antibiotics, post-coital urination, and other medications and behaviors.  There is, however, little data on horseradish.  There is a little bit in the German literature, but nothing particularly definitive.

One thing the literature does show is that Dr. Oz isn’t the first person to tout horseradish for UTIs. But there is no good evidence it does anything.  This appears to be yet another example of Dr. Oz taking an interesting embryo of an idea and presenting it as fully born and raised.

My advice: Save the horseradish for the gefilte fish.


  1. Something I often hear is that cranberry juice, because of its acidity, also helps. Is there any truth to that? Does the acidity of food and drink have any effect on UTIs?

  2. Cranberry juice contains a substance that interferes with E.coli adherence to the bladder wall. So far, despite the biological plausibility, few studies have shown significant benefit, e.g. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/article/body/375553538-2/jorg=journal&source=&sp=25670224&sid=0/N/1058291/1.html?issn=00256196

  3. kmom

     /  October 22, 2012

    I can’t imagine facing that much horseradish every day!

  4. Oz did get an honorary degree from Bastyr University, after all. So, he’s actually SUPER qualified to make claims that don’t have scientific support. That’s BU’s bread and butter.

  5. JustaTech

     /  October 23, 2012

    If horseradish does contain oils that are anti-bacterial, wouldn’t your body digest those if you eat the horseradish? I would think you would need a topical application to get any benefit, and that would be worse than the UTI in the first place!

    (I have heard people say that you should put horseradish or wasabi in your lunch to keep it from growing stuff between when you pack it and when you eat it.)

  6. Amy (T)

     /  October 25, 2012

    So, you often hear about so-n-so food having “antibiotic properties” and I understand that as a topical solution some can help; but can any really do much internally? Can these antibiotic properties make it through the digestive system, and what minuscule part that goes through the bladder would do anything to the urinary tract? And doesn’t Dr. Oz recommend probiotics? If horseradish is powerful enough to prevent UTIs, wouldn’t it be taking out your gut fauna?

    • it’v very possible for a pharmacologically active compound to make it to the urine one way or another. we just haven’t found any non-medicines that cure or prevent utis.

  7. Karen

     /  October 26, 2012

    As someone with more than her share of UTIs, I have learned: Wipe CAREFULLY. Drink lots of water, especially in the desert. If your favorite place to hang on vacation is 40 miles from the nearest doctor, keep a prescription of antibiotics on hand. Drink lots of water. Wipe CAREFULLY.

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