Simple Tips for Overcoming Urinary Tract Infections Safely and Naturally
© 2015 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Up to 60 percent of women will experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in their lives. UTIs are one of the most common reasons why women visit their healthcare professionals and women are 10 times more likely to get a UTI than men. With an estimated 150 million cases in the world each year, the resulting healthcare cost is around $6 billion, not to mention the lost time from work and other normal activities.
UTIs can result in a range of symptoms from mild pain and discomfort to more serious cases that involve your kidneys and renal system and require hospitalization.
Sexual activity is one of the most common risk factors in acquiring a UTI and is part of the reason why so many women will experience a recurrence of the infection -- 30-40 percent of women will get another UTI within six months of the first infection. Over time, the conventional treatment, which is almost always antibiotics, stops working as well, requiring stronger or new antibiotics that can cause potentially harmful side effects and make your body more resistant to antibiotics when you really need them.
Signs and symptoms of a UTI include:
Burning or pain when urinating
More frequent than normal urination or a sudden, urgent need to urinate
Lower abdomen pain or cramping
Blood or pus in your urine or a strong smell to your urine
Painful sexual intercourse
Fever, chills, nausea or vomiting
What Causes UTIs?
UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of your body. Your body produces lots of natural agents inside the bladder, which keep urine sterile, but if bacteria enters the urethra, the bladder or urinary tract can get infected. The bacteria can come from a number of sources, but in most cases a UTI is caused by bacteria in fecal matter that travels to the area around the urethra. This bacteria, most commonly E. coli (Escherichia coli), is the infecting agent in 70-75% of UTI cases.
However, there are other risk factors that make you more likely to develop a UTI as well. These include:
New or multiple sex partners or frequent or intense sexual intercourse
Irritation from harsh skin cleansers or contraceptives like diaphragms or spermicides
Taking birth control pills
Having a history of UTIs, especially if you had more than one in six months
Conventional UTI Treatment
If you suspect you have a UTI, your health care provider will feel your abdomen and the area around your kidneys and will also do a urine test to check for infection. The typical medical treatment for a UTI is a 1-10 day round of antibiotics. However, patients with frequent urinary tract infections may also be placed on a low-grade dose of antibiotics that they take every day as a way to prevent new UTIs from occurring.
The most common antibiotic used for UTIs is trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX, brand names Bactrim, Septra). But, unfortunately, new antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli have begun appearing that don't respond to treatment with TMP-SMX. So health care professionals have begun to try other antibiotics in the penicillin, cephalosporins, or fluoroquinolone families. It is feared that the bacteria may become resistant to these antibiotics as well.
Problems with Conventional Treatment
The first problem with conventional antibiotic treatment of UTIs is that antibiotics often have unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects. These can include:
Stomach upset, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Vaginal itching or discharge
Headache or dizziness
Photosensitivity (making it easy to get sunburned)
The second problem with antibiotic treatment of UTIs is that bacteria can become resistant to them, making it harder and harder to treat the next infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistance is a major public health problem because almost every type of bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics with overexposure to the antibiotic. In fact, the CDC says that it is frequent and inappropriate use of antibiotics that causes bacteria to become drug-resistant. Then when a UTI or other infection occurs, the antibiotic won't work as well -- or at all. Once this happens, treating the infection becomes more difficult, requiring stronger antibiotics, which may have harsher side effects, and leaving you vulnerable to the more serious repercussions of an uncontrolled infection.
What Are Probiotics?
The term probiotic comes from the Greek words meaning "for life," just as antibiotic means "against life." Whereas antibiotics are meant to kill bacteria, probiotics are meant to help other healthy microbes grow. They are live, beneficial bacteria that help keep a healthy balance of microorganisms in your bowel, vagina, and body in general. Keeping the right balance of healthy, bacteria-fighting microorganisms can help reduce the occurrence of infection.
Probiotics occur naturally in fermented foods like yogurt but are also available in supplement form. In some countries, probiotics are considered a normal part of daily nutrition and digestive health.
In the United States, interest in probiotic foods and supplements is on the rise. Some health care professionals have begun recommending probiotics for digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. Research also indicates that probiotics may help prevent and treat UTIs.
Probiotics for UTIs
In the healthy vagina and urogenital area, there are more than 50 different microorganisms. Depending on your age and your exposure to different factors, the composition of these microorganisms changes. When you take antibiotics or use products like spermicide, the balance can be disturbed. The same can happen when E. coli or other bacteria are introduced.
In premenopausal women, a healthy vaginal environment is dominated by a type of microorganism called lactobacilli. When a UTI occurs, tests show that the lactobacilli are greatly depleted. However, probiotics may help keep the population of lactobacilli healthy and strong, which can help prevent bacteria from gaining hold and turning into a UTI.
In one study, lactobacilli probiotics were administered by vaginal suppository to women who had a history of recurrent UTIs. Results showed that 27% of the placebo group had another UTI within 10 weeks, whereas only 15% of the women taking the probiotic had another UTI in the same time period.
In another study, women who douched with a probiotic solution had a significant increase in the time between infections. A second phase of the study showed that the use of probiotic vaginal suppositories reduced the recurrence of UTIs by 79% over a year. Success has also been seen when taking probiotics following treatment with antibiotics. The antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria, which means they also kill the lactobacilli. Probiotics help restore the lactobacilli before bacteria can re-infect the urinary tract.
Although vaginal application of lactobacilli seems to have the most impact on preventing or reducing UTIs, oral ingestion of probiotics can help as well. A daily dose of probiotics can travel through the gut, exit the rectum and support the lactobacilli in the vagina.
In a study of women who suffered from nearly constant UTIs, after taking oral probiotics for several days a number of the women had all of their symptoms disappear. The researchers estimate that between 50-90% of women would have healthier levels of vaginal lactobacilli within 1-2 weeks of taking daily probiotics.
Probiotics for General Health
Probiotics have also shown promise in treating certain digestive disorders. The most promising treatments have been seen for infants and children who have infectious diarrhea. With probiotic treatment, studies show a reduction rate of up to 60% as compared to a placebo. Several studies show that probiotics can also help prevent recurrences of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. A healthy digestive tract also promotes a healthier immune system in general.
Some preliminary research shows that probiotics may also:
Help prevent the development of allergies in children
Help patients deal with negative antibiotic side effects
Decrease the risk of certain cancers
Help prevent cavity-producing bacteria in your mouth
You may want to ask your health care practitioner about what type of Probiotics are best for you that may help alleviate symptoms associated with diarrhea, constipation, dysbiosis, bacterial infections, and yeast overgrowth.
With probiotics, it's all about survival. Probiotic organisms must survive three critical barriers to be of benefit -- the manufacturing process, time on the shelf, and most importantly, transit through the acidic environment of your stomach. High quality probiotics are formulated to handle all of the above, that enhance stability and the ultimate delivery of probiotic organisms to your intestinal tract.
More Natural Help for UTIs
In addition to taking probiotics, there are other natural ways you can help prevent the recurrence of UTIs. Certain lifestyle changes can help, such as:
Drinking plenty of fluids like water and herbal teas and avoiding caffeinated and high- sugar beverages
Drinking unsweetened cranberry and blueberry juice
Urinating before and after sexual intercourse
Avoiding sex while you are under treatment for a UTI
Eating antioxidant-rich and high-fiber foods while avoiding refined foods that contain trans fats and sugar
Ask your health care practitioner about taking daily multivitamins and supplements such as vitamin C, omega-3 fats.
Be sure that you tell your health care provider what supplements you are taking. Also consider making an appointment with your health care provider to discuss whether probiotics or another natural option might be the right course for you in treating and preventing UTIs.
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