It’s not easy to forget a bad UTI. Experiencing one really is something that stays with you. The memories I mean, hopefully not the infection.
Did you know that each year 25-50% of women will experience a urinary tract infection and 27% of them will have a relapse within 6 months of the first infection.
Classic symptoms include cloudy urine, burning pain on urination, increased frequency of urination, abdominal pain, back pain and in severe cases blood in the urine, mood swings, irritability, fits of rage and/or confusion.
If you ever see blood in your urine, you need to head to your GP as soon as you can. Blood in the urine can indicate kidney damage which is irreversible, and you need antibiotics quick smart.
Before this point however Naturopathy offers some very effective solutions for UTIs and some great interventions for prevention of relapse.
Herbal medicine has provided us with some great urinary antiseptic herbs which can kill off bladder infections very effectively. Lots of women I see have same-day relief of symptoms, which is all you could ever wish for when you have a UTI.
However, once that fire has been put out, so to speak, we need to go back and look at how we can prevent relapse.
The reason behind why women are so much more susceptible than men is mostly put down to anatomy- women have smaller urethras and therefore its more likely that bacteria like E. coli from the intestinal tract can be passed into the bladder causing infection.
In younger people UTI’s can be an indication of frequent sexual activity but in older women it’s usually due to a decline in personal hygiene.
Either way, we can see that person hygiene is a massive influencer and hygiene before and after sexual activity is really important- especially urinating soon after sex to clear bacteria from the urethra.
ALWAYS wipe front-to-back when you go to the toilet so that you aren’t wiping bacteria into your urethra- seems obvious when you think about it but it’s surprising how many women don’t do this.
Intestinal worms are another reason why some women can never get rid of their UTIs. Pinworms are highly infectious and infect humans when the eggs- which can be deposited on any surface- are ingested and travel through the gastrointestinal tract where they hatch before moving to the colon and then exiting through the anus. If an infection is left untreated these pinworms can migrate to the urinary tract and the vagina causing infection wherever they go. Terrifying, right?
Again, hygiene is important here, especially washing hands regularly, showering, cleaning under fingernails etc.
Signs of intestinal worms can include an itchy bottom, a rash around the anus or the actual presence of pinworms in your stool. If you think you may have worms, book in, there are some great herbs for killing worms too.
Most Naturopathic strategies for prevention of UTIs are based around inhibiting the adhesion of bacteria to the lining of the urinary tract.
This is what Cranberry does and why Cranberry juice is usually the first thing people think of when it comes to UTIs- bad new: it’s not going to help if you already have an infection but if you’re someone that gets frequent UTIs maybe think about taking Cranberry as prevention.
Cranberry works by making the lining of the urinary tract super slippery so that bacteria can’t stick to the walls and create infection.
Try and find a good quality tablet rather than the juice as the juice is usually high in sugar and low in therapeutic constituents.
Something important to assess with every patient with frequent UTIs is their general immunity- how susceptible are they to opportunistic infections?
I do this but asking how often they get sick, how run down are they, I ask about their diet, energy levels and stress. Diet and lifestyle practices are so influential that we can learn so much about the body but looking at what we do every day.
One example of this is chronic stress. Being in a state of constant stress- either emotional stress or just “being busy” constantly, which is a kind of stress, causes a depletion in secretory IgA. Secretory IgA is an important immune cell that lives in our mucosal membranes- the lining of our digestive systems, mouth, eyes, nose and urinary tract.
Depletion of this cell can cause a suppression of the immune system which means it is less able to fight off opportunistic infections when they enter the body.
Probiotics can be great for supporting immune health via many different pathways and finding strains specific to the immune health of the mucous membranes and the urinary tract microflora can been very effective in preventing UTIs.
Overall, good hygiene is probably the biggest take home message and check in with your Naturopath or GP if you have any symptoms “down there.” Suffering in silence isn’t fun and doing round after round of antibiotics is not the best solution long term for UTIs.
If UTIs are destroying your happiness or if you think you might have worms, book a complementary 20min consult to discuss how natural medicine could help.
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Howell A, Souza D, Roller M, et al. Comparison of the anti-adhesion activity of three different cranberry extracts on uropathogenic P-fimbriated Escherichia coli: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled, ex vivo, acute study. Nat Prod Commun 2015;10(7):1215-1218
Nicolosi D, Tempera G, Genovese C, et al. Anti-adhesion activity of A2-type proanthocyanidins (a cranberry major component) on uropathogenic E. coli and P. mirabilis strains. Antibiotics (Basel) 2014;3(2):143-154.
Photo by Sergio Briones on Unsplash