You’ve got pain in your lower belly. A constant urge to pee. Your bladder feels like it’s on fire and your toilet bowl smells like something from the pits of hell. Hello, urinary tract infection! Most women will experience at least one in their life. However, some unlucky ones get them much more frequently. It’s certainly no fun.
If you get more than three per year or two in a six-month period, then you meet the criteria for recurrent urinary tract infections. Estimates are that up to 50% of women fall into this category.
Women most at risk for recurrent infections are those who have imbalances of oestrogen (either high or low), post-menopausal women and women with diabetes.
The problem with antibiotics
Medical options for recurrent urinary tract infections include antibiotic prophylaxis. (Prophylaxis is where you take something to prevent getting the condition.) Although this approach works while taking the antibiotics, the infection often returns with a vengeance when you stop. There’s also the well- documented problem with antibiotic resistance. Another concern with using antibiotics this way is the collateral damage done to the gastrointestinal and vaginal microflora. It is now widely acknowledged that our microbiome has a whole truckload of other roles to play in our health, so it kind of makes sense not to harm it unless we have no other options. Fortunately, we do! Herbal medicines have a long history of effective treatment for urinary conditions, and there are also nutrients that have solid evidence behind them.
The role of natural medicine in prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections
Herbs can work both in supporting the resolution of an active infection and preventing the reoccurrence.
The most well-known one is Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpa) which has been shown to be effective in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Cranberry reduces the ability of the bacteria to hang around in the urinary tract. It’s one you need to take regularly and long term. Make sure the product has sufficient proanthocyanidins (36mg) to make it effective.
Crataeva (Crataeva nurvala) tones the bladder and increases the force of urine expulsion allowing it to flush out more bacteria. It also may inhibit the bacteria forming what is known as a biofilm (a protective covering that helps them evade antibiotics and the immune system).
Other herbs that have a role in managing the infection include Bearberry, Buchu, Corn Silk and Marshmallow. These herbs are antimicrobial and help prevent the bacteria sticking to the bladder wall. They also reduce pain and inflammation.
Supercharge your immunity
Getting your immune system in tip-top shape is another potent weapon in the war on recurrent urinary tract infections. Echinacea can be useful here along with immune supporting nutrients such as zinc and vitamin C. Probiotics with strains specially formulated to balance the vaginal flora are also effective.
A reasonably new kid on the block is D-mannose. D-mannose is a simple sugar similar to glucose. It occurs naturally in fruits and is also made by the body. The most common bacteria in recurrent urinary tract infections is Escherichia coli. E. coli has little finger-like projections that bind to receptors on the bladder wall. D-mannose fits the same receptors and if it occupies these E. coli has nowhere to attach to – game over!
A recent randomised controlled trial comparing antibiotic prophylaxis with D-mannose found that on average the antibiotic-treated women got an infection every 52 days and the D-mannose treated women averaged 200 days between infections.
** Herbs and supplements may not be appropriate if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or are taking other medications. I encourage you to seek the advice of a qualified health professional to get the right treatment for your circumstances.
Diet and hygiene tips
At last, though certainly not least there are some hygiene and dietary things you can do to reduce your risk.
- Drink plenty of water
- Decrease exposure to dietary irritants such as caffeine, refined sugar, nicotine, alcohol, any dietary allergens.
- Completely empty your bladder and go to the toilet regularly
- Wipe front to back
- Remove vaginal irritants such diaphragms, tampons, spermicide
- Reduce tight fitting clothing and wear breathable underwear made from natural fabrics
- Observe pre and post coital hygiene
If you suffer or have suffered from recurrent urinary tract infections, I’d love to hear about what you’ve tried and how effective it was. Leave me a comment below.
***If you experience blood in your urine, fever or vomiting you should seek medical attention immediately.
References available on request.
Norelle Hentschel is a degree qualified Naturopath and operates a clinic in Crows Nest, North Sydney. She enjoys helping people feel better and can assist with a broad range of health conditions or general health maintenance.
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