Urinary Tract Infections, or UTIs, are one of those annoying and embarrassing things that people don’t really like to talk about too much, but they are surprisingly common. In fact they are estimated to affect around 150 million people worldwide every year!
I would like to discuss how to prevent UTIs because as well as being extremely uncomfortable, they can pose a threat to the kidneys. Even in an uncomplicated UTI (that is one where there are no other abnormalities of the urinary system), there is a likelihood that the bacteria will travel further up the urinary tract into the kidneys, but in complicated UTIs (where there are other issues relating to the urinary system including renal disease), infections become more likely.
The most common symptoms of a UTI are feeling like you need to urinate more often, a painful burning feeling after urinating, getting up during the night to urinate, and smelly or cloudy urine. If there is fever, shakiness or lower back pain, this may indicate the infection has spread to the kidneys, in which case urgent medical attention is needed.
Often, antibiotics are prescribed to treat UTIs, which usually gets rid of the infection and symptoms, but unfortunately antibiotics also negatively affect the good bacteria which actually help protect us from unwanted bacteria. This imbalance in bacteria then creates an environment that is favourable to drug-resistant pathogens, and so recurrence of UTIs can become a vicious cycle.
Sometimes antibiotics cannot be avoided, but here are some tips and strategies to give you the best chance of avoiding needing them, and hopefully avoiding contracting a UTI in the first place:
Tips & Strategies
Hygiene – UTIs are more prevalent in women which is why some of these tips are specific to women’s hygiene.
- Wiping from front to back after using the toilet
- Empty the bladder fully
- Wearing cotton underwear and avoiding tight clothing around the area
- Always urinate as soon as possible after intercourse
Protect and support the microbiome
Several strains of probiotics have been researched and shown to be beneficial by promoting resistance to UTIs by stimulating immunity. There are many different brands and combinations of strains available now, but look out for these strains on the bottle:
- Lactobacillus plantarum HEAL9
- Lactobacillus paracasei 8700:2
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- Bifidobacterium animalis spp lactis.
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1
- Lactobacillus reuteri B-54
There are many herbal medicines that can help support immunity and prevent and treat UTIs. Herbal teas can be extremely effective as well as they go straight to the place we want them to! Try your local health food store to see if any of these are available.
- Astragalus – Immune enhancing and diuretic, this herb supports the immune system and increases urine flow to eliminate bacteria.
- Echinacea – This well-known herb can be used to help support the immune system as well as reduce inflammation and soothe irritated tissues in the urinary tract.
- Corn Silk – This herb soothes the mucous membranes of the urinary tract as well as increasing urine flow. Even using the silk straight from a cob of corn steeped in hot water can help in an emergency!
- Couch Grass – Another wonderful soothing and diuretic herb to help prevent bacteria accumulating and promote healing.
- Buchu – Buchu is a urinary antiseptic which has amazing properties from preventing and treating UTIs.
- Shepherd’s Purse – Another urinary antiseptic, this herb also has anti-inflammatory properties which make it a valuable treatment.
- Medicinal mushrooms – Not all mushrooms are created equal! These varieties enhance immunity and help prevent recurrent infection. Some of the best are Reishi, Cordyceps and Coriolus.
Support immune health through diet
- Vitamin C and zinc help decrease the severity and duration of an infection as well as help heal the tissues and prevent scarring. Citrus fruits, kiwifruit, capsicum, nuts and seeds are some of the best wholefood sources of these nutrients, but you may also want to supplement during periods of illness to support healing and recovery.
- Avoid sugar! Sugars and refined carbohydrates can impair immune function and feed bacteria. Sugar also creates an acidic environment that bacteria thrive in.
Prevent bacteria from adhering and colonising
- The bacteria that is present in a UTI thrives in the acidic environment. Keeping the urine alkaline during an infection will help stop the bacteria from colonising and spreading. There are commercial urinary alkalisers available, but in an emergency you can also drink ½ – 1 teaspoon of bi carb soda (not baking soda), in a glass of water 3-4 times per day.
- Cranberry – Another herbal medicine that has been shown to prevent the bacteria from adhering to the wall of the urinary tract is Cranberry. You can take this in juice form, but avoid juices with sugar added (cranberry is quite tart!) as the sugar will feed the bacteria. If you are prone to UTIs or kidney stones, you might want to take a quality cranberry tablet regularly instead as a preventative measure.
Flush toxins out of the urinary system
- As simple as it sounds, drinking enough water is the most important thing you can do to help prevent and resolve a UTI. Without adequate water, the bacteria will simply not leave the urinary system. How much you need to drink depends on several factors including body size, climate and whether or not you are a dialysis patient, in which case you need to discuss this with your doctor. For those who do not have a restriction on their water intake though, at least 2 litres per day is a good amount to focus on.