If you’ve had a urinary tract infection once, there’s almost nothing you wouldn’t do to avoid having another one. If you’re prone to chronic UTIs, the pain and burning can be enough to make you avoid any activity that might trigger one, and worse yet if you get them frequently but can’t determine the exact cause.
Fortunately, there are several effective and natural home remedies for the prevention of UTIs that can help you avoid a daily, low-dose antibiotic for urinary tract infection, and keep your bladder and urinary tract healthy and pain-free.
What is a UTI?
UTI stands for urinary tract infection, and is a common type of infection that can affect both men and women. UTIs happen when bacteria travel up the urinary tract (or urethra), or bladder where they can multiply and cause painful symptoms.
Urinary tract infections cause:
- Pain while urinating (usually a burning sensation)
- Feeling of urgency (whether you need to urinate or not)
- Pelvic pain
- Blood in your urine
UTIs can cause serious problems if the infection travels to your bladder or kidneys.
What Causes UTIs?
Up to 90% of urinary tract infections are caused by one type of bacteria, E. coli, which normally resides in your intestines without causing any harm (1). But as a result of sex, hygiene practices, or other factors, this bacteria can end up in your urinary tract, where it’s not supposed to be–and that’s when infection happens.
Women are more prone to UTIs because of their physiology, but men can also get UTIs.
UTI’s are not an STD, though having sex while you have a UTI can make your symptoms worse by reintroducing bacteria into your urinary tract.
Why Do I Keep Getting UTIs?
If you have recurring UTIs, they’re likely caused by the same bacteria from the initial infection, usually E. coli (1).
Recurrent UTIs aren’t uncommon among both young women and women in middle age, and here’s why…
Normally, the “good” bacteria in your digestive system and vagina keep any unfriendly pathogens in check, keeping the ecosystem “down there” healthy and balanced.
For young women, sex is one of the biggest causes of UTIs. Because of proximity, sex can cause bacteria present in the vagina and rectum to get pushed up into the urinary tract.
In middle age, as hormones begin to change, culprits for recurrent UTIs can be physical changes like the thinning of vaginal and bladder tissue, and lower levels of estrogen after menopause.
Pregnancy is also a common trigger for UTIs, and as baby grows it can get harder to fully empty your bladder. Leftover urine can be an opportunity for bacteria to multiply (2).
In some cases, urgency and pain that feel like a UTI can be mistaken for a chronic condition called interstitial cystitis, or painful bladder syndrome.
What’s Interstitial Cystitis?
Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition involving bladder pain that your doctor can’t attribute to another known cause. Interstitial cystitis symptoms include pain in the bladder or urethra, a frequent urgency to urinate, and sometimes pain in your pelvic floor.
Interstitial Cystitis vs. UTI
Urinary tract infections are just that–an infection due to bacteria in the bladder or urethra. The exact cause of IC is not fully understood, and there are limited treatments available to address this condition, unlike UTI’s which generally resolve once the infection is treated.
Can I get rid of a UTI without an antibiotic?
While your body is technically equipped to resolve an infection on its own like that which occurs as a result of the common cold or flu, there are a few things to be aware of if you decide to go the natural route to treat your UTI.
As many as 42% of UTIs clear up on their own, but the issue arises when your immune system becomes overwhelmed, and can’t do so on its own (3). This could result in the infection traveling to your bladder or kidneys and causing long-term kidney damage.
Your doctor will likely recommend a course of antibiotics, and you should feel symptom improvement in the first several hours after starting it. But it’s important to note that many women get a yeast infection after treating a UTI with an antibiotic, so it’s important to control Candida with a probiotic or other measures while taking an antibiotic for your UTI.
The key to treating a UTI is to catch it as soon as symptoms pop up to be the most effective. The longer bacteria sit in your urinary tract, the more they multiply, and the harder they are to get rid of.
UTI’s Natural Remedies and Prevention Tips
Avoiding antibiotic resistance, Candida overgrowth, and microbiome imbalance are all reasons to want to try the natural remedies to treat your UTI’s. Here are some home remedies to treat UTIs, plus the evidence-based methods behind each one.
D-mannose is a naturally-occuring compound that’s similar to sugar. It’s found in some fruits, including cranberry, which is where the recommendation to drink cranberry juice comes from, although d-mannose is a much more effective way to accomplish the desired effect than cranberry juice.
D-mannose works by causing the bacteria in your bladder to become “sticky” such that they stick to themselves rather than the lining of your bladder or urethra. Then, the process of urinating naturally eliminates the harmful bacteria from your bladder (4).
You can find d-mannose in capsule or powder form, and the typical dose is 500 mg taken every 2-3 hours for a few days until the infection resolves. Some people report loose stool at higher doses with d-mannose.
Balance Your Microbiome
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are two classes of friendly bacteria that help to keep your gut and vaginal microbiome balanced and healthy. They’re a big part of immune function and keeping unwanted bacteria in check.
You should be having comfortable, regular bowel movements (1-2 per day), without diarrhea or constipation, with minimal food sensitivities and easy digestion.
If you can identify any of the above symptoms, your gut may not be able to absorb nutrients properly, or nourish beneficial bacteria that keep you healthy.
Learn more about a Belly Fix to rebalance your gut and microbiome.
Probiotics have been shown to be effective in studies for long-term prevention of UTIs (5). Because E. coli is the most common bacteria responsible for UTIs, improving the gut and vaginal flora impacts the urinary tract.
Since the “good” Lactobacillus bacteria produce acid, which lowers the pH in the vagina, it helps keep the bad bacteria in check.
Uva Ursi or Bearberry
Uva ursi is an herbal extract used traditionally as a natural remedy for urinary tract infections. It’s made from the leaves of the bearberry bush. Uva ursi has been shown to have significant antibacterial activity against E. coli.
In a study of 57 women, 5 of 27 women had a recurrence of UTI in the placebo group while none of 30 women had a recurrence in the uva ursi group after 1 year (6).
Cranberry extract contains natural proanthocyanins and a small amount of d-mannose, both of which have been shown to prevent bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract.
There are a plethora of cranberry extracts products available, but due to lack of proper standardization, it can be extremely difficult to compare products and make sure you’re getting a quality cranberry extract.
The bottom line: cranberry extract could be helpful to support bladder health, but it won’t protect you from getting a UTI–especially if you’re prone to them.
Berberine is an alkaloid with a long history of medicinal use in Eastern medicine. Berberine has been shown to combat different types of bacteria and infections, including E. coli. It works against bacteria, viruses, and fungi by inhibiting them from adhering to the wall of the urethra or bladder (7).
Berberine may also be helpful for microbiome imbalance like Candida overgrowth.
Don’t Hold It! (And Always Pee After Sex)
UTI prevalence is highest among teacher and nurses–two groups of people who aren’t always able to take restroom breaks, and who will often forgo hydration specifically for that reason (8).
The less frequently you urinate, or the more dehydrated you are, the longer bacteria in your urinary tract have time to multiply, and this can lead to a UTI.
Similarly, it’s good practice to always pee after you have sex to flush out any bacteria that might’ve been pushed up into your urethra during the act!
Holistic Health for UTI
UTI’s are incredibly common for women, but are painful, and can be scary and frustrating if you can’t pinpoint the known cause. If you get them frequently, you may be worried about antibiotic resistance and want natural home remedies for the treatment of UTIs.
Natural remedies for the prevention of UTIs are safe and effective, and can help you reduce the likelihood of antibiotic resistance while protecting your body’s own microbiome.
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