When it comes to one’s health, everyone has a weak spot. Some of us have two. Weak spots are usually aggravated by stress, poor lifestyle habits and not enough sleep. For some people, their weak spot is their lungs, leaving them with a constant cough. For others it might be a consistently sore joint or a never ending drip from the nose.
For many women, their weak spot is their bladder. Sometimes it’s issues with incontinence, but more commonly it is a vulnerability to Urinary Tract Infections.
Just in being a woman your chances of contracting a UTI dramatically increase. It’s mainly due to womens’ urethras being closer to the anus when compared to men (thus a higher chance of cross contamination of bacteria from the bowel). However there are other risk factors for UTIs, which include:
- An impaired immune system – often combined with an impaired gut microbiome
- The overuse of antibiotics
- Sexual intercourse
- Oral contraceptive
- Hormone imbalances such as oestrogen deficiency
- Poor hygiene
- Other bladder or kidney problems
Most people that have experienced the debilitating pain of a UTI would do anything to avoid it again. The good news is there is plenty you can do to reduce their frequency, severity and stop them from reappearing altogether.
Get up and go to the toilet after sex, ALWAYS
If you are prone to UTIs and you’re sexually active, it is best to go to the toilet both before and immediately after you have sex (within ten minutes max). This “flush” technique ensures any bacteria is flushed out. It’s also a good idea to drink ½ a litre of water after sex.
Also, you may be interested to know that you are more likely to develop a UTI after sex if your partner has entered you from behind (this way the bacteria is more easily pushed from around the anus to the urethra). It’s usually best to avoid sex altogether if you have a bladder infection (I doubt many feel like it anyway)… but if you do, make sure to choose positions that cause less friction on the urethra.
Most UTIs are caused by bacteria that comes from your own bowel, making it imperative to always keep your genitals clean if you are prone to infection. This is especially true when going to the toilet and double especially true after diarrhoea or loose stools. It is easier than you think to touch the area around your urethra with contaminated fingers. So remember, always wash your hands in the bathroom and when you’re on the toilet make sure to wipe front to back.
Leave antibiotics as your last option
Deciding when to use and when not to use antibiotics for a UTI is a tricky balance. There is no question that antibiotics have their place in modern medicine. And it is dangerous to put yourself in a situation where the infection could travel up to your kidneys and cause serious permanent damage (and leave you in hospital). But…. in saying all of that, it is always a good idea to give your body a chance to fight the infection off naturally first. Here is why:
- Scientific research shows that infection post antibiotic therapy is common, with over half of recurring infections occurring due to the same bacteria strain. This indicates that the bacteria causing the infections are becoming antibiotic resistant.
- Antibiotics wipe out ALL bacteria. This includes good bacteria in both your urogenital system and the gut (where they form as an integral part of your immune system). When you lose good bacteria, your immune system takes a hit leaving you even more susceptible to another infection. It becomes a chicken and egg scenario, which can only be broken by trying to let you body fight for itself for a change (with the support of natural medicines) – for as long as you can anyway.
The best thing to do is be sensible and take advice from both the conventional and complimentary sides of the medical fence:
- As soon as you feel the tingle of an infection coming on (this feels like a burning urethra), book into the GP to get a urine test and culture. This test reveals the exact bacteria present and therefore will indicate the exact antibiotic you will need to take should you decide you need the drugs a few days later. (NB: So many women just throw back broad-spectrum antibiotics such as Augmentin on day 1 when it isn’t even guaranteed as an effective treatment for the specific stain of bacteria they have). If you have to take the drug at least wait for the test results and take the right one.
- For 2-3 days, try your hardest to fight the infection naturally. Take everything suggested below, keep your diet clean, your water up and try to sleep a lot.
- After 2-3 days, if the symptoms haven’t resolved or they are getting worse, make the sensible decision and take a low dose course of the specific antibiotic recommended.
- If you have taken the antibiotics, take 2 heaped teaspoons of a broad spectrum probiotic and an SB probiotic daily on an empty stomach for a minimum of two months. It is also a good idea to consider some St Mary’s Thistle for liver support and a bit of a post antibiotic detox.
Avoid things that hinder your immune system
A weak immune system creates the perfect opportunity for a UTI to present itself, thus you should avoid things that deplete you and your immunity. Make sure you get enough sleep and get to bed before 11pm regularly. Leave the job or relationship that is making you miserable. Go easy on the booze and sugar. Take slow, long belly breaths or consider meditation. Get regular sun, fresh air and exercise but most importantly, find the right way for you to manage your stress and get relaxed again.
Support a healthy level of good bacteria in the gut by taking a daily probiotic. Good bacteria keep the immune system in check and will help you avoid recurring UTIs. For more info on how good bacteria affects the immune system check out this post.
Cranberry extract and juice is the most popular natural remedy for UTIs. It can be used as a preventative but also taken in large therapeutic doses upon the onset of an infection. Cranberry works by preventing potentially harmful bacteria (E.coli) from sticking to urinary tract walls and effectively flush out the bacteria from the urinary tract to help promote urinary tract health. A good product is Flordis’s Ellura (cranberry extract), which is taken as 1 capsule daily.
Outside of Cranberry supplements, pure cranberry juice can be drunk to your hearts content to ease acute UTI symptoms (such as burning, urgency, etc). Make sure to only buy 100% Cranberry juice that is sugar free from the health food store (added sugars may worsen the infection by feeding the bacteria).
D-Mannose is a naturally occurring sugar found in cranberries, blueberries and apples. It is the isolated constituent of cranberry juice that makes it so popular in the treatment of UTIs, thus making it a far more effective treatment than straight Cranberry. It’s effective in the treatment of e coli based infections (which account for 90% of bladder infections). It works by sticking itself to the E Coli bacteria in the bladder, preventing it from sticking to walls thus allowing it to be more easily eliminated from the body.
D-Mannose can also be taken as a general preventative, especially at times where you might more prone to getting a UTI (e.g. when you’re run down or at the beginning of a new relationship, etc). A good dose for both acute and preventative treatment is 500mg/daily.
Biofilm disruptors are the ideal alternative preventative and treatment to the 10% of UTIs that are not caused by e coli bacteria. They work by breaking down the accumulation of microorganisms (and their byproducts) on the lining of the urogenital tract (this accumulation makes it hard directly treat the infection). These biofilms are antibacterial resistant, making them the main cause of reoccurring UTIs and increased resistance to antibiotics. Again this supplement isn’t readily available in Australia but can be purchased readily online at iHerb.com. I like Kirkmans Biofilm Defense Capsules – take 1 capsule daily.
Alkalising mineral mixes can be added to your water to ease the burning feeling of a UTI (it alkalises the urine). It is available at most health food stores and is a really good natural alternative to Ural (a popular urine alkalising product sold at most chemists). Half a teaspoon of bicarb diluted in water also has an alkalising effect on the urine (NB: if you choose to try this remedy please do 2 hours away from food).
This advice is pretty self-explanatory. You need to drink as much (purified) water as possible during the day to flush out the bacteria (and take some load off the liver). It is always better to drink warm water as cold water tends to shock the nervous system and digestive tract. Water may be drunk straight, with added supplements (like cranberry juice or alkalising salts – see below) or in the form of herbal tea (marshmallow and chamomile teas are great at soothing UTIs).
Foods that aggregate a UTI
When you have a UTI, it is imperative to eliminate foods that may aggravate symptoms. These include:
- Alcohol (it puts pressure on the liver, dehydrates you, reduces your immunity, the list goes on)
- Caffeine (especially coffee, which is acidic and dehydrating)
- Refined Sugars (which feed the bacteria)
- Other acidic foods, such as tomatoes (these may aggravate the burning sensation upon urinating)
It is best to limit the amount of oxalate-rich foods you take in when you are prone to UTIs. Foods rich in oxalates include wheat, dry beans (excluding lima and green beans); beetroot, spinach, rhubarb, strawberries, nuts, chocolate and tea. When too much oxalate is absorbed into the bloodstream via gut, they may combine with calcium to form tiny but very sharp calcium-oxalate crystals. These crystals can then potentially cause inflammation and pain by wedging themselves into the tissues of the bladder and kidneys.