Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are a common problem among women, and this story looks at a possible preventative technique: drinking more water. A study conducted in Bulgaria tracked women over a year, half of whom significantly increased the amount of water they drank.
The story was strong on many points, providing plenty of details on how the study was designed and what the outcomes were. However, it missed the mark in one key area: It didn’t disclose that five of the seven researchers either work or consult for Danone, which makes several brands of bottled water.
That’s important context for understanding the research and some of the frothier claims that it’s generating, such as increased water consumption might eliminate the need for antibiotics.
As we’ve covered many times, health care is full of potential conflicts of interest. Even water is not off limits–and readers deserve to know that.
Although tap water generally costs very little, the sponsors of this research have helped turn bottled water into a multi-billion dollar industry. We’ll rate the criterion Not Applicable, but some comment on the costs of bottled water wouldn’t have been inappropriate.
The story addressed the scope of the benefits in this way:
Young women plagued by UTIs who drank an additional 6 cups of water each day were nearly half — 48 percent — as likely as a control group to have another infection, the study showed.
The water group also reduced their use of antibiotics by roughly half — or 47 percent.
This is a good start. However, we need the absolute numbers. As the study abstract shows, the increased water group had 111 UTIs while the control group had 217.
It’s also noteworthy that the women enrolled in the study had a low fluid intake of water to begin with — about 1 liter per day (half of the amount considered necessary to replenish fluids excreted daily). We don’t know whether women who already have a healthy fluid intake would have a similar benefit.
Increasing intake of water carries a low risk of causing problems–except for more bathroom trips. For women suffering from incontinence, this could be especially troublesome and a disincentive. The story indirectly addressed that, so we’ll give credit:
“In addition, the bother associated with the higher urine output, and feasibility of implementing this water intake strategy across a range of occupations and ages, requires further study as well,” he said.
This was a strong point of the story. We’re given many details about the study: How many women were enrolled in both a control group and an active intervention group, how many UTIs they suffered from at baseline, what their water intake was like before and during the study, how much water intake was involved in the intervention, how long the study lasted, and how the researchers kept track of the women, and so on. It also let us know the results are considered preliminary, since they’ve only been presented at a conference and haven’t been peer-reviewed.
The story did not disease-monger and it discussed the prevalence of UTIs and why they affect women more often. However, we think it could have dialed back some of the predictions that this could lead to the end of antibiotic use for UTIs.
The story included an independent source. However, it unfortunately left out that Danone, which sells several brands of bottled water, was heavily involved in the study. This is disclosed in the study abstract.
The story did not discuss alternatives to drinking extra water but there may not be any. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, “Experts don’t think eating, diet, and nutrition play a role in preventing or treating bladder infections.”
Changes in hygiene habits — such as emptying the bladder after sex — can reduce the frequency of UTIs.
For most people in the U.S, water is easily available.
It’s well-known that increasing fluid intake might help prevent UTIs, so the story should not have described this as an “unexpected benefit” and it should have addressed how this new study fits into the larger body of evidence.
The story contained interviews and original information not found in the news release.