Blog | Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pass on the horseradish for urinary tract infections

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.

Peter A. Lipson, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. After graduating from Rush Medical College in Chicago, he completed his internal medicine residency at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. This post first appeared at his blog, White Coat Underground. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers "musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture." His writing focuses on the difference between science-based medicine and "everything else," but also speaks to the day-to-day practice of medicine, fatherhood, and whatever else migrates from his head to his keyboard.