10 Ways to Treat and Prevent Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are ten times more common in women than in men. In fact, one in every four adult women will have a urinary tract infection at some time in her life. UTIs are particularly prevalent in elderly women, although they can affect females in any age group—even young girls. Women tend to be more prone to these infections than men because of the differences in the structure of the male and female urinary tract. The following are some ways you can treat and prevent UTIs from happening again.
1. Cranberry Juice
The juice of this native North American fruit has been used for years to treat and prevent urinary tract infection. It was once thought that the juice cleared up infections by acidifying the urine, killing bacteria in the process. It is now known that natural chemicals in the berry, known as proanthocyanins, treat UTIs by preventing the adherence of E. coli bacteria to the wall of the urinary tract. Instead of hanging around to multiply, bacteria are flushed out in the urine.
But will cranberry juice help you? Studies show that a daily glass of the juice may not only prevent a UTI but may be effective at treating one. In a 1994 landmark study, researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School in Boston studied 153 women for six months. The women were given either 300 millilitres (10 fluid ounces) of cranberry juice or a placebo to drink once daily. At the end of the study, women drinking the cranberry juice were only about one quarter as likely as the placebo group to continue to have a UTI. This improvement in was seen after two months of treatment.
How much do you need? There are no clear recommendations, but a dose of 300 millilitres (10 fluid ounces) per day was used in the 1994 study. The participants drank a cranberry cocktail that was 27 percent juice. Be sure to check labels—most cranberry cocktails contain 10 to 33 percent cranberry juice. To treat and prevent a
UTI, 300 millilitres to 1 litre per day is often suggested. Cranberry juice may not be for everyone, though. Drinking large quantities (1 litre or more) of the juice may aggravate kidney stones in some people. Stones made from oxalate and uric acid are more likely to form in acidic urine. Women with irritable bowel syndrome may experience diarrhoea if they drink too much cranberry juice. If you are at risk for such problems, limit your intake to 300 millilitres (10 fluid ounces) per day.
2. Cranberry Extract
You might not want to take in the extra sugar and calories from a daily glass or two of cranberry juice, and you may want to avoid the artificial sweeteners in the “light” brands of juice. Capsules of dried cranberry contain between 300 and 800 milligrams of dried cranberry powder and are available in health food stores and pharmacies. Take two 500-milligram capsules to get the equivalent of 300 millilitres of cranberry juice.
Proanthocyanins, the same phytochemicals in cranberries that prevent bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract wall, are present in blueberries. If you don’t like cranberry juice, or you want a little variety, add 1/2 to 1 cup of blueberries to your daily diet. You don’t have to wait until the blueberry season to take advantage of their health-enhancing effects. Blueberries are available frozen, canned or dried year round.
Be creative by adding a cup of blueberries to your:
- breakfast smoothie
- morning bowl of cereal or oatmeal
- green salad with a raspberry vinaigrette
- yogurt or low-fat ice cream.
- baked goods such as muffins and bread loaves
Every single day, drink plenty of water to help flush the bacteria out of your system. Women who don’t exercise need to drink at least 2 to 3 litres (8 to 12 cups) of water each day. If you work out, add another litre (4 cups). Aim to drink 500 millilitres (2 cups) with each meal and with your mid-day snack. Take water with you when you’re on the go—have a bottle in the car, in your purse and on your desk at work.
There’s no question that, if you are not used to it, drinking water is one of the more difficult habits to form. It’s all a matter of training yourself. And if you don’t have a water bottle around to remind you to drink, you’re apt to forget.
5. Limit Aggravating Foods
During your recovery period, it is wise to avoid coffee, alcohol and spicy foods, which may aggravate your irritable urinary tract. You may find that there are other foods that make your situation worse. Make a mental note of such foods and avoid them.
There is good evidence to support this herbal remedy’s immune-boosting power. Studies have shown that garlic, particularly the allyl sulfur compounds plentiful in aged garlic extract, stimulate the body’s immune system. Animal studies have found that the amount of garlic equivalent to three aged garlic extract capsules dramatically increases the activity of white blood cells that fight infection—the killer cells, macrophages and leukocytes. You might want to take garlic daily to help maintain a healthy immune system. Or, if you are experiencing a UTI, consider adding this herb to your treatment plan.
Most scientists agree that one-half to one clove of fresh garlic consumed each day will offer health benefits. And most people can take one or two cloves a day without any problems. Use more raw garlic in cooking: add it to salad dressings, pasta sauces and stir-fries. It’s the oil-soluble compounds in fresh garlic that account for its odor and its potential to cause stomach upset.
If you decide to take garlic pills, buy a supplement made with aged garlic extract. This form of garlic has the highest concentration of the special sulfur compounds that boost the immune system. Aged garlic extract has two other benefits—it’s odorless, and the irritating components present in raw garlic are removed. Take between two to six capsules a day—that’s one or two with each meal. Because aged garlic extract can thin the blood, check with your physician first if you are taking blood-thinning medication such as Coumadin® (warfarin).
7. Uva Ursi
Studies suggest that, when taken on a short-term basis, this herb may be effective for urinary tract problems, including UTIs. The leaf of the plant is where the three active ingredients are found: arbutin, tannins and hydroquinone. When taken orally, uva ursi has antiseptic and astringent effects in the urinary tract, and it may reduce inflammation. Although not proven, it is believed that foods that increase the acidity of the urine, like cranberry juice, may actually diminish the antibacterial properties of uva ursi.
If you want to give this herb a try, be sure to use it safely:
- Do not use the herb longer than one week without medical supervision. Tannins can irritate the stomach and limit the herb’s duration of use. Hydroquinone can have toxic effects if taken in larger amounts for an extended period of time.
- Your doctor should evaluate any symptoms that persist for more than 48 hours.
- Limit your use of the herb to five times a year.
- Do not take uva ursi if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. The herb can increase the speed of labor in pregnant women, and there is very little information available about its use during lactation.
- Do not use uva ursi if you have a kidney disorder.
You can take the herb as a standardized extract or as a tea. If you are buying the
herb in pill or tablet form, buy a product that is standardized to contain 20 percent
arbutin; this is the extract used in clinical studies. A statement of standardization can be found on the front label or the ingredient list.
Buying an herb that is standardized means you are purchasing a product that has a guaranteed amount of the active ingredient. If you are using a tea, steep 3 grams of the dried leaf in 150 millilitres of cold water for 12 to 24 hours and then strain; take one cup of tea four times a day. It’s recommended that you prepare the tea with cold water to minimize the tannin content, as tannins can cause stomach upset. Uva ursi leaves are available from a certified herbalist.
8. Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria
In addition to garlic, you might want to get a daily dose of Lactobacillus acidophilus to help ward off infections caused by E. coli bacteria. This friendly bacteria lives in your intestinal tract where it forms a protective barrier, blocking the ability of infection and causing bacteria to grow. Lactobacillus acidophilus, like other friendly bacteria called bifidobacteria, produces lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, compounds that suppress the growth of E. coli in the intestinal tract.
A number of laboratory studies have shown that these bacteria prevent E. coli from attaching to the lining of the intestine and the vagina. One study even found that lactobacillus treatment reduced the recurrence of UTIs in women. These bacteria are often referred to as probiotic agents.
Probiotics may also enhance your body’s immune system. Two human studies found an increased number of immune compounds in people who drank fermented milk. In one study, bifidobacteria added to fermented milk led to an increase in white blood cell activity against E. coli. If you are taking an antibiotic medication for your UTI, you should consider adding a probiotic supplement to your treatment regime. Antibiotics kill all bacteria—friendly and disease-causing. Taking a probiotic while you are on antibiotic therapy may lessen the chances of re-infection and decrease gastrointestinal upset caused by the drug.
The recommended dose of a probiotic agent varies. The strength of a supplement is expressed in the number of live bacteria cells per capsule. If you have a UTI, take 1 billion to 10 billion live cells divided into three doses daily.
If you are taking a supplement to keep your immune system healthy, one capsule a day is all you need. Take your supplement with a meal when your stomach contents are less acidic due to the presence of food. This allows a greater number of bacteria to withstand stomach acids and reach their final destination in the intestinal tract.
The potency of these supplements can be reduced by storage conditions and the duration of storage; that’s why you’ll find these products sold in the refrigerator section of your local health food store. Some brands, however, are manufactured to maintain their potency at room temperature. For example, Wakunaga’s KyoDophilus™ has been tested and found to retain high bacteria counts for up to six years at room temperature.
Since research has shown that both Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria offer health benefits, a product that contains both types is recommended. Many experts believe that supplements made from human strains of bacteria are better adapted for growth in the human intestinal tract. When choosing a product, you might ask the pharmacist or retailer if the formula contains human or non-human strains.
Don’t forget to add probiotic foods to your diet. Fermented milk products like yogurt, kefir and sweet acidophilus milk all contain live bacterial cultures.
Many women find that a heating pad, a hot water bottle or a warm bath will go
a long way to relieve the pain and discomfort caused by a UTI.
10. Personal Hygiene
One of the most important methods of preventing a UTI is to practice good personal hygiene:
- When you urinate or have a bowel movement, make it a habit to wipe gently from front to back; this will avoid spreading bacteria from the rectum into the urethra.
- When you feel the urge to urinate, try not to resist. A regular release of fresh, sterile urine will often wash harmful bacteria out of the urethra before it has a chance to travel into the urinary tract.
- Clean your genital area before having intercourse, as this will remove harmful bacteria that may be accidentally transferred into the urethra.
- Urinating before and after intercourse will help to wash out any bacteria that has migrated into the urinary tract.
- Wear cotton underwear. Bacteria grow best in a warm, moist environment. Cotton is a fiber that provides good ventilation, so whenever possible, you should wear cotton underwear or pantyhose with cotton liners.
- Avoid tight-fitting pants or other types of clothing that may trap heat, irritate tissues and promote bacterial growth.
- Washing your underclothes in strong soaps or bleach may cause irritations that could lead to a UTI. If you are susceptible to UTIs, avoid chemical irritants in bubble baths, perfumed soaps, douches, feminine hygiene deodorants and deodorant tampons and pads.