How to Prevent and Treat Urinary Tract Infections with Natural Therapies
Updated: May 1
Urinary tract infections (UTI) are a very common infection especially in women. It's estimated that 50% of women will experience at least one UTI in their lifetime. UTIs can affect both men and women, but us women are more prone to them because of our anatomy.
Our urethra is shorter than men's and bacteria can travel more easily into the bladder. UTIs are most commonly caused by E. coli and Staphylococcus saprophyticus from the bowels, but can also be caused by other bacteria.
What Are Symptoms of a UTI?
Symptoms of a urinary tract infection include painful urination, feeling the urge to urinate more frequently, feeling like you can't completely empty your bladder, lower abdominal pain, cloudy urine, and blood in the urine.
How Do You Test for a UTI?
If your doctor suspects a urinary tract infection they will most likely have you collect your urine to do a dipstick test and may send it out for culture.
A dipstick test is easy to do and will look for markers of an infection like blood, white blood cells, leukocyte esterase and nitrites. When the urinary tract is inflamed there may be blood in the urine and the number of immune cells, called white blood cells, will increase to fight the infection. White blood cells contain an enzyme called leukocyte esterase that can be detected when there is a urinary tract or kidney infection. Nitrites in the urine are present when bacteria are there because they can convert nitrate, which is normally found in urine, to nitrite. Not all bacteria can do this conversion so this marker is not always present in a UTI.
A culture will sometimes be sent out to see which antibiotics are most effective just in case any given at the appointment don't work.
How Can UTIs Be Prevented?
If you've recently treated a UTI or you're prone to them you may be wondering about how to prevent them. Naturopathic care can be very effective for this!
Adequate hydration - make sure you're drinking lots of water daily! Watch out for dehydrating beverages like caffeinated beverages, coffee and tea and either reduce them or make up for the water loss with extra water. Paying attention to the color of your urine can give you a clue as to how well hydrated you are. Urine that is pale to light yellow means good hydration, but if your urine is dark yellow increase your water consumption until it's in the pale range.
Proper hygiene - if you're a woman you should wipe front-to-back to avoid the spread of bacteria. Avoid using feminine deodorants and douches because they aren't necessary for good hygiene and can cause irritation and pH changes that may make you more likely to get an infection.
Urinate after sex - sexually activity can make it easier for bacteria to spread so urinate after sex to flush the urethra and prevent bacteria from getting up into the bladder.
Cranberry and d-mannose - many people have heard of using cranberry for urinary tract infections. It can be used as prevention and treatment. Make sure to use pure cranberry juice or one without added sugar. Blueberry juice can be mixed with it for flavor and to help prevent UTIs too. D-mannose is a sugar that's found in cranberries and blueberries and prevents bacteria from sticking to the bladder walls so it washes away during urination. Both cranberry and d-mannose can be taken in capsule form if preferred.
Probiotics - The urinary tract needs a good balance of healthy bacteria just like the digestive tract. If you suffer from repeated UTIs you might try probiotics to crowd out the harmful bacteria. This would be especially important if you've treated your UTIs with antibiotics in the past as a way to bring the balance back to the urogenital system. Try to find a probiotic with strains like Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri because these have been studied for prevention and treatment of UTIs and are specific for the urinary and genital regions.
What Can You Do About a Current UTI?
Some of the recommendations below are similar to prevention such as hydration, probiotics, cranberry and d-mannose. Keep reading for other things you can do in addition to these.
Reduce sugar - sugar can decrease immune cell activity and you don't want to impair your immune system when you're fighting an infection. Reduce or eliminate sugary snacks, candy, soda and simple carbohydrates from the diet.
Stay hydrated - this is useful for prevention as well as during an infection to flush the bladder and urethra of bacteria. Stay hydrated with water, tea or cranberry/blueberry juice and decrease dehydrating beverages like coffee or other caffeinated drinks.
Probiotics - increase probiotic intake from foods or supplements. The urinary tract needs a good balance of healthy bacteria just like the gut. Probiotics are especially important for urinary, genital and intestinal health if you're taking an antibiotic. Try to find a probiotic with strains like Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri because these are specific for the urinary and genital regions.
Cranberry and d-mannose - these can be used for prevention at lower daily doses but can also be useful during an active infection. Cranberry can be taken in capsule form or as a juice. Be sure to find unsweetened cranberry juice to avoid increasing sugar intake. You can mix it with water or blueberry juice for flavor and added benefits. D-mannose, found in cranberries and blueberries, helps to flush out bacteria by preventing it from adhering to the bladder walls. It's available in powder or capsule form. If you're trying to treat an active infection you would take these more frequently than if you were using them for prevention.
Use botanicals - other herbs that are urinary antibacterials include uva ursi or bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), buchu (Agathosma betulina), juniper (Juniperus communis), marshmallow root (Althea officinalis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium), and echinacea (Echinacea spp.). You may be able to find these in a tea or supplement formulas. If you're experiencing an active infection you may need to either drink tea or take capsules more often to have it be effective.
Homeopathic cantharis - this remedy can be useful if you're experiencing a lot of burning pain during urination and in the lower abdomen, an intense urge to urinate all the time and the urine tends to come out drop by drop.
Garlic - this contains allicin and other sulfur compounds that act as natural antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. You can take garlic in capsule form or increase it in your diet.
When To See Your Doctor
Sometimes UTIs can be treated at home with supportive and holistic care, but if your symptoms aren't getting better after a few days or you experience fever, nausea, vomiting or lower back/side pain it may be time to see your doctor. These can be symptoms of a kidney infection and you may need antibiotics to treat it.
Many women have suffered through a urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lives. Symptoms of a UTI include painful urination, frequent urination, feeling an urge to urinate, feeling like you can't completely empty your bladder, bloody or cloudy urine, and lower abdominal pain. Your doctor may test a sample of your urine for markers of infection like white blood cells, blood, leukocyte esterase and nitrites or send it off for a culture to find the most effective antibiotic. Prevention strategies include hydration, good hygiene, urinating after sex, cranberry, d-mannose and probiotics specific for the urinary tract. Treatment options include increasing the dose and frequency of many of the prevention strategies or adding on antibacterial botanicals, homeopathy, garlic and reducing sugar in the diet.
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Kranjčec, Bojana, et al. “D-Mannose Powder for Prophylaxis of Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections in Women: a Randomized Clinical Trial.” World Journal of Urology, vol. 32, no. 1, 2013, pp. 79–84., doi:10.1007/s00345-013-1091-6.
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