Natural Treatments for Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are extremely common, especially among women. In fact, if you are a woman, you are 8 times more likely than your male counterpart to get this type of infection.
Fortunately, there are several natural treatments for UTIs–treatments that leave you healthy and without the many side effects that can occur with the mainstream treatment of antibiotics.
In this post:
- Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection
- Antibiotics as the Treatment of Choice
- The Alternative: Natural Treatments for Urinary Tract Infections
- Food as Medicine for Urinary Tract Infections
- Prevention is the Best Medicine for UTIs
Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection
The symptoms associated with urinary tract infections are usually unmistakable—from pain or pressure in the lower back or stomach, to feeling a constant need to urinate with little results, to a strong smell and cloudy, discolored urine.
In some cases, the associated symptoms may be so subtle that they are barely noticeable. This type of infection is known as a “silent UTI” and, if left untreated, can spread to the kidneys and bloodstream. The symptoms associated with this type of urinary tract infection include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, and confusion.
Up to 80% of women will get at least one UTI in their lifetime, with 20-30% of these women suffering from recurrent bouts. 1
Antibiotics as the Treatment of Choice
Typically, many UTI sufferers feel symptoms coming on and run to the doctor for a prescription of antibiotics. In fact, over 8 million people a year do just that.
While this form of treatment may kill the bacteria (typically E. coli) that has caused the infection, it comes along with a host of side effects that can cause long-term diseases—much worse than the imbalance they were trying to cure in the first place!
These side effects range from headaches or nerve damage to altering the gut’s microbes which then leads to systemic Candida infections and leaky gut—a syndrome that may ultimately result in an autoimmune disorder.
Studies show that children treated with antibiotics are also at a greater risk for developing several diseases, like diabetes, asthma, allergies, and other autoimmune disorders as they age. In 2010, the 74.5 million prescriptions for children averaged to one prescription of antibiotics for every child in the U.S.! 2
According to a report in BMC Medicine, broad-spectrum antibiotic prescriptions doubled from 2000 to 2010. Even worse? Studies have shown that 50% of outpatient antibiotics prescribed are unnecessary.3
And the more we use antibiotics, the more the ever-present bacteria adjust to the onslaught and either alter their makeup in order to become impenetrable or take the offense and attack and kill the antibiotic before it kills them.
An example of this adjustment is MRSA or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium now known as a “super bug” due to its resistance to antibiotics. It causes mild infections on the skin to serious infections in wounds, lungs, and the urinary tract.
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers the emergence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria one of the three greatest threats to human health.2
[Related: What To Do When You’ve Taken Antibiotics]
The Alternative: Natural Treatments for Urinary Tract Infections
Fortunately, there are natural treatments that have been shown to successfully treat UTIs, with studies to back their use. Each of them are good preventatives, as well:
1. Garlic. This powerful plant, which is closely related to the onion, was revered by Egyptians who used it to cure over 22 illnesses from loss of energy to heart disease and tumors.4 The father of western medicine, Hippocrates, used it to treat cancer, pneumonia, and other infections. It is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal and has been shown to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA.5
Researchers at the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences in India determined that “even crude extracts of garlic showed good activity against multidrug resistant strains where antibiotic therapy had limited or no effect.” Over 80% of antibiotic resistant bacteria were susceptible to an extract of garlic.6
2. Cranberries. Many turn to cranberry juice at the first signs of a UTI. While they may not know the properties or chemical compositions of this berry, they do know that their symptoms are alleviated after drinking several glasses of this juice.
Cranberry works by inhibiting the bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract, reducing the bacteria’s ability to grow and multiply.
Studies show that cranberries can prevent E. coli’s ability to grow and multiply, and that it can work in as little as 8 hours after drinking juice from this berry.7 Keep in mind that you do not want to drink commercial cranberry juice that is loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup–make sure what you’re buying is 100% cranberry juice, and organic if possible.
3. Vitamin C. Linus Pauling, a biochemist and educator, first touted the benefits of vitamin C in the 1960s, claiming it to be a cure for heart disease, cancer, and infections. While many in the medical communities branded him a quack, studies conducted after Pauling’s death have validated his theories.
A study conducted at the University of Colima in Mexico found that taking just 100 mg of a naturally-occurring form of vitamin C every day played an important role in reducing the number of urinary tract infections.8
4. Probiotics. The presence of “good” bacteria in the gut is crucial to controlling the overgrowth of pathogenic or “bad” bacteria. Unfortunately, antibiotics do not differentiate between the two and destroy both harmful bacteria and the normal, beneficial bacterial flora.
This “good” bacteria is responsible for helping us digest our food, creates neurotransmitters and vitamins, supports our immune system, and repels pathogens. Probiotics, meaning “for life,” contain live strains of good bacteria that helps us maintain balanced intestinal microflora.
But what do probiotics have to do with UTIs? By establishing healthy gut flora, you prevent the growth of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains, restore a balanced microbial flora, and support the body’s immune system, helping it to establish an effective immune response against the pathogenic bacteria that is contributing to the UTI.9
There are many probiotic supplements available. Be sure to choose a high-quality probiotic with at least 15 strains, and one that contains prebiotics (a soluble fiber which probiotics feed upon).
I believe the best way to establish your body’s healthy intestinal flora is to include fermented foods in your diet. These types of foods include kefir, Rejuvelac, sauerkraut, beet kvass, and kimchi. I am such a proponent of these foods that I place their importance and impact on our health right up there with drinking your daily green smoothies!
5. D-Mannose. D-Mannose is a naturally-occurring sugar and the active ingredient in cranberry juice. It works by sticking to E. coli, removing it from the walls of the bladder and urinary tract, and allowing it to be rinsed away with normal urination.
One study separated over 300 women into 3 separate groups. One group received 2 grams of D-mannose, the other received 50 mg of an antibiotic, while the third received no treatment. Fifteen women in the group that received D-mannose had recurring UTIs over a six-month period–the lowest recurring rate of UTIs in the study.10
While I advocate eating (and drinking) whole foods to support health, instead of supplements derived from food, helping your body direct an attack on invading bacteria by taking a potent supplement to rid yourself of the invader is an important step in creating a healthy body. But remember that a whole foods diet will promote your health on a long-term, daily basis.
6. Oregano Oil. Oregano is a hardy perennial herb and a member of the mint family. The oil is derived from its leaves and flowers and has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties and is loaded with antioxidants. It is commonly put in capsules and used to treat nail fungus, thrush, sinus infections, yeast infections and, yes, you guessed it, UTIs.
A study aimed at investigating the antibacterial properties of oregano essential oil against E. coli found that it was effective in treating these bacterial infections.11
Taking this oil internally is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, children, or those who are allergic to plants in the Lamiaceae family which includes mint, lavender, sage and basil.
Food as Medicine for Urinary Tract Infections
Of course, I’m all about whole foods and a proponent of the philosophy that food really is our best medicine when it comes to UTIs or other ailments. And science backs me up.
A team of researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine found a protein called siderocalin in the urine of people with UTIs. Siderocalin can help stop the E.coli bacterial growth that typically causes UTIs, but only if the urine it’s in has a pH higher than normal (which means it is less acidic, and closer to neutral or the pH of water).12
The nutrients that they found the most effective in raising pH toward more alkaline levels were polyphenols, and the best way to get these antioxidants into your diet is by increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables. Blueberries, elderberries, strawberries, raspberries and flaxseed are particularly rich in polyphenols.
Foods to avoid include refined carbohydrates and sugar, which acidify your urine and don’t activate the body’s defensive siderocalin proteins.
Prevention is the Best Medicine for UTIs
As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” There are a few habits you can begin implementing in your life that will help prevent urinary tract infections. These habits include the following:
- Drink water! Preferably, alkaline water. Not only will you keep your body hydrated, you will flush out toxins, including bacteria. Keeping your body alkaline and increasing urine pH increases the activity of siderocalin which inhibits bacterial growth. Drink at least 2 liters per day and add a touch of fresh lemon juice which also alkalizes your urine
- Eat a diet that promotes an alkaline internal environment—this means a whole foods diet rich in fruits and vegetables. And don’t forget your fermented foods!
- Be sure to urinate after sex. This precaution helps flush out any bacteria that may have entered your urinary tract.
- Avoid using spermicides which can increase irritation and have been linked to bacterial growth. One study found a high correlation between UTIs and the use of a diaphragm with spermicide.13
- If you do take a dose of antibiotics, be sure to reseed your gut with healthy bacteria by taking a high-quality probiotic and eating fermented foods.
- E. coli likes moist, warm environments. This means that those who are prone to UTIs will benefit from wearing loose cotton clothing. Cotton, as compared to nylon, is a natural fabric that allows for airflow.
- Avoid feminine products that contain chemicals and synthetic ingredients such as those found in powders, sprays and douches. Natural is always better.
[Related: Toxic Cosmetic Ingredients To Avoid]
A Quick Recap
Urinary tract infections, usually caused by E. coli, are one of the most common bacterial infections, accounting for more than 8 million patient visits to physicians each year in the U.S.
While antibiotics are the usual UTI treatment of choice among these practitioners, natural treatments are available. Not only are these alternatives successful in curing UTIs, they also do not come with the side effects associated with antibiotics. A few of these therapies include:
- Vitamin C
- Oregano Oil
As prevention is the best medicine, I recommend daily habits like drinking two ounces of alkaline water for every pound of body weight, eating a whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods, and wearing loose clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton.
Other articles related to knocking out infection:
- 7 Natural Immune-Boosters and Viral Killers
- Before You Give Your Child Antibiotics, Antacids, or ADD Meds: What A Holistic Pediatrician Wants You To Know
- Oral Surgery With Natural Antibiotics (Narcotic- And Steroid-Free)
- Mum’s Magic Antiviral Hot LemonAid Tonic
- Home Remedy For Colds: 5 Soothing, Healthy Drink Recipes
Robyn Openshaw, MSW, is the bestselling author of The Green Smoothies Diet, 12 Steps to Whole Foods, and 2017’s #1 Amazon Bestseller and USA Today Bestseller, Vibe. Learn more about how to make the journey painless, from the nutrient-scarce Standard American Diet, to a whole-foods diet, in her free video masterclass 12 Steps to Whole Foods.
- Urinary Tract Infections Send Millions of People to the Doctor Each Year. The Washington Post. 11/2013. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/urinary-tract-infections-send-millions-of-people-to-the-doctor-each-year/2013/11/11/185c4748-c944-11e2-9245-773c0123c027_story.html?utm_term=.74c8b43160b4
- Vangay, Pajau. Antibiotics, Pediatric Dysbiosis, and Disease. Cell Host & Microbe. 05/2015. https://www.cell.com/cell-host-microbe/fulltext/S1931-3128(15)00164-X?_returnURL=http%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS193131281500164X%3Fshowall%3Dtrue
- Lee, Grace et al. Outpatient antibiotic prescribing in the United States: 2000 to 2010. BMC Medicine. 06/2014. https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-12-96
- The Long History of Garlic. Antioxidants-for-Health-and-Longevity. http://www.antioxidants-for-health-and-longevity.com/history-of-garlic.html
- Guoliang, Li et al. Fresh Garlic Extract Enhances the Antimicrobial Activities of Antibiotics on Resistant Strains in Vitro. Jundishapur Journal of Microbiology. 05/2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458355/
- Universiti Putra Malaysia. Using Garlic to Combat Antimicrobial Resistant Urinary Tract Infections. ScienceDaily. 07/2015. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150710101332.htm
- Woznicki, Katrina. Cranberry Juice Fights Urinary Tract Infections Quickly. WebMD. 08/2010. https://www.webmd.com/women/news/20100823/cranberry-juice-fights-urinary-tract-infection-quickly
- Ochoa-Brust, GJ. Daily intake of 100 mg ascorbic acid as urinary tract infection prophylactic agent during pregnancy. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica. 07/2007. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17611821
- Borchert, D. et al. Prevention and treatment of urinary tract infection with probiotics: Review and research perspective. Indian Journal of Urology. 04/2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684288/
- Kranjcec, B. et al. D-mannose powder for prophyulaxis of recurrent urinary tract infections in women: a randomized clinical trial. World Journal of Urology. 02/2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23633128
- Sienkiewicz, M. et al. The antibacterial activity of oregano essential oil (Origanum heracleoticum L.) against clinical strains of Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Medycyna Doswiadczalna I Mikrobiologia. 04/2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23484421
- Patz, Aviva. Foods That Fight UTIs. Prevention. 07/2015. https://www.prevention.com/health/a20467787/foods-fight-uti/
- Hooton, TM et al. A prospective study of risk factors for symptomatic urinary tract infection in young women. New England Journal of Medicine. 08/1996. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8672152
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