Urinary tract infections are one of the most common infections in the world today. It is estimated that 50-60% of women will get at least one UTI in her lifetime, and of these women 20% of them will have a recurrent infection. (1) Escherichia coli (otherwise known as E. coli) is the bacteria which is responsible for about 90% of these infections. The infection occurs when bad bacteria enter the otherwise sterile environment of the bladder and colonize it. Because of the anatomical differences between men and women, women are more prone to acquiring this disorder.
-burning sensation when urinating
-aching in pelvic region
-dark, cloudy, and bloody urine
-feeling off and shaky
What causes a UTI?
Sexual intercourse: An extremely common cause for UTIs because it exposes the area to bacteria which can enter the urethra.
Wiping back to front: Can also introduce bacteria from the anus to urethra.
Wearing synthetic underwear: Polyester can hold onto more moisture as opposed to natural fibers, making it an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. (2)
Tight clothing + underwear: Can also promote the proliferation of bacteria.
Holding in your urine: allows bacteria more time to multiply.
Birth control: using “the pill” has been positively correlated with an increased risk of recurrent UTIs.
Physical contraceptives: specifically spermicide and diaphragms. (3)
Medical conditions: diseases like diabetes can increase your risk for bacterial overgrowth.
Soap: using soap around that area can disturb the pH balance making it easier for bacteria to multiply.
Sugar: high sugar diets can weaken the immune system leading to more bacterial infections.
Baths: taking baths will create the perfect environment for bacteria to enter your urethra.
The Main Problem with Antibiotics:
The standard medical approach in North America is to prescribe antibiotics for bacterial infections due to their historical success. Although antibiotics have saved millions of lives, their overuse is now creating a newer and potentially more deadlier problem. Antibiotics kill roughly 99.9% of all bacteria present in the infected area, leaving behind a tiny trace of bacteria immune to the drug. This tiny percentage of bacteria containing the drug resistant trait can repopulate the area rendering the next administration of antibiotics less effective if at all.
Antibiotic resistance is a serious condition affecting over 2 million Americans every year and it is now considered one of the biggest threats to global health by the World Health Organization. In addition to this, antibiotics can also cause a host of other negative health affects:
Bacteria imbalances: antibiotics do not discriminate between good and bad bacteria. By killing all the good bacteria in addition to the bad, it disturbs the delicate bacterial balance in the gut. In the short term, it can cause bloating, gas, stomach aches, and diarrhea. If probiotics are not used, then more serious chronic conditions like leaky gut syndrome, IBS, and SIBO may develop.
Secondary infections: Women who use antibiotics to treat their UTIs are 25% more likely to develop a yeast infection or fungal overgrowth within the next 6-12 months of treatment.
“Disabling side effects”: The FDA have issued a safety announcement warning doctors against the use of certain antibiotics for minor UTIs. Long term use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics can lead to damage in tendons, muscles, joints, nerves, and the central nervous system. (4)
Antibiotics and professional medical care are of course necessary if you find your symptoms are not going away or are worsening. That doesn’t mean however, you can’t try some more natural and gentler approaches to improving your bladder health. Making some lifestyle and dietary changes can dramatically reduce your chances of getting another bladder infection and some supplements listed here have even been shown to reverse minor uncomplicated UTIs.
If you’re part of the unlucky group who constantly get recurrent UTIs then making some lifestyle changes will be essential.
Drink more water! Water will help flush out bacteria that can linger in the bladder and lead to overgrowth. Invest in a water filter so your water tastes better making you more likely to drink it. The chemical reduction doesn’t hurt either. To enhance the flavor further add some chopped up cucumber and fruits and let it infuse in your water bottle. Use preferably a glass or stainless steel bottle to prevent the absorption of hormone disrupting chemicals like BPA and phthalates.
If you find yourself getting UTIs after having sex then try peeing before and after sex. Peeing beforehand will help flush out bacteria before it has the time to multiply. Peeing afterwards will also help remove any bacteria introduced through sex.
When going to the bathroom, wipe from front to back.
Consider buying underwear made out of natural fibers like cotton. Cotton is much more breathable than polyester and is better able to absorb moisture allowing the fabric to dry faster. If possible, invest in a set of organic underwear. Cotton is sprayed with some of the most toxic chemicals in the world and those chemicals are easily absorbed by your skin leading to more skin irritation in sensitive people. To avoid UTIs, it is important to keep the vaginal area as free as possible from harsh chemicals like those found in most conventional underwear. GOTs certified clothing ensures that no toxic chemicals are ever used throughout the entire manufacturing process, from start to finish.
For athletic wear consider purchasing 100% cotton jersey pants instead of yoga pants. The jersey weave allows the pants to stretch with your body and it won’t restrict the area as much. This allows the skin to breath better reducing bacterial overgrowth.
Try going to bathroom as soon as you feel the urge to pee.
Eat garlic daily. It’s considered “natures antibiotic” and it will help prevent any future infections, including those in the bladder.
Also try some raw apple cider vinegar. Although not specific to UTIs, it does contain a high amount acetic acid which is extremely effective at destroying bacteria while also helping good bacteria thrive. It can easily be added to salad dressings, soups, roasted veggies or even diluted with a glass of water.
Talk to your doctor about getting off of birth control and trying more natural contraceptive methods. Birth control can wreak havoc on your hormones making you more prone to UTIs . Contraceptives like the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) use fertility signs instead of drugs to avoid pregnancy (for more information on FAM consider reading the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler). Hormonal imbalances can also be caused by medical conditions which can go unnoticed (like thyroid disorders). This is why it is essential to get hormone levels tested regularly to see if additional measures are required to re-balance levels.
Barrier methods, especially spermicides, have been shown to increase the likelihood of UTIs. (5) Consider the above information and make the switch to other natural contraceptives like FAM instead (this method should only be considered if you are in a stable and healthy relationship).
Diets high in refined sugars can weaken your immune system and help feed bad bacteria making you more likely to get UTIs. Get carbs from complex carbs instead of simple sugars (try baked oatmeal with fruits and nuts instead of cake or brownies). Focus on foods with low glycaemic indexes and avoid foods which can also irritate the bladder like caffeine, spicy foods, nicotine, carbonated beverages, and artificial sweeteners.
Don’t use soap around the vaginal area because it leads to further irritation and unnecessary exposure to harmful chemicals (some common soap brands have EWG ratings of 10!). Water is sufficient enough as the vagina cleans itself. Also avoid taking baths.
Quit smoking. Smoking causes inflammation and weakens the immune system making it more difficult to fight infections.
Supplements and Home Remedies:
D-mannose: One of the most promising natural alternatives for minor uncomplicated UTIs. D-mannose is a simple sugar naturally occurring in fruits and is believed to be the molecule in cranberries responsible for making them so effective against UTIs. Instead of killing bacteria like antibiotics, it works by detaching E. coli from the walls of the bladder allowing them to get flushed out when the person urinates. D-mannose is extremely safe to use and won’t contribute to insulin spikes because it does not get absorbed by the body. It is also thought to be the best remedy when combined with probiotics and cranberry supplements. For more evidence based information on D-mannose please refer to this study.
Lauricidin: can help with the 10% of UTIs not caused by E. coli. It is derived from coconut oil and works by destroying the bacteria’s membrane halting replication.
Vitamin C: increasing your intake of this vitamin helps the immune system prevent and fight off infections better. Stick to natural sources of vitamin C as synthetically made ascorbic acid is derived from GMO corn and has been linked to cancer. Instead consume vitamin C from rose hip tea, citrus fruits, kiwis and supplements like camu camu powder.
Vitamin D: also helps boosts the immune system and helps you recover from infections faster. If you live in cold climates (or stay indoors a lot) then a vitamin D supplement is essential regardless of whether you are prone to UTIs or not. Get your vitamin D levels checked regularly and ask your doctor what your ideal dosage should be.
Probiotics: Some probiotics are specifically formulated for bladder and vaginal health. By repopulating the bladder with good bacteria you create a better defense system against bad overgrowth.
Echinacea: this herb is so effective at stimulating the immune system, reducing inflammation and pain that the German government has officially approved its use for UTI treatments. (6)
Oregano oil: Acts like a natural antibiotic. In fact, a 2012 clinical trial of oregano oil found it to effectively killed antibiotic resistant strains of e.coli bacteria 7. Due to its strong antibacterial properties, it is best to avoid probiotics for a few hours after any oregano oil treatment (or else it’s just money down the drain). Your bottle should have further instructions on how to consume the oil and at what dosage.
Marshmallow root: Although not a direct defense against UTIs, it does helps sooth the urethra lining and decrease inflammation.
Hot Compress: Applying a hot compress can soothe the inflamed and irritated area. I would recommended purchasing a silicon heating pad over the plastic electrical ones. The electrical pads emit a high amount of emf radiation which can have negative effects on the reproductive organs.
Cranberry Extract: Originally one of the most popular home remedies for UTIs that even doctors recommended. Recent research suggests that cranberry juice may not be as effective as originally thought. On the hand, cranberry juice does contain certain antioxidant compounds which are highly effective at treating UTIs. Due to its positive safety record, including cranberry extract in your daily health regime should at least be given a try.