By Rustina, Contributing Writer
The itch. The burn. The nagging need to constantly run to the bathroom. Then, the fever, the chills, and the lower back pain. Do you know the feeling? Aaargh, I hated having UTIs.
In my 20s, I would get them every few months. I was so busy trying to do everything a young girl was “supposed” to do – working full time, college full time, being strong, and enjoying every moment with loved ones – that I didn’t take great care of myself. I ate quick, processed meals and greasy cafeteria food. I went out in the evenings and stayed cooped up in buildings all day long. Crammed in weight lifting but didn’t focus on stretching and maintenance because I didn’t realize their importance.
I often fell asleep working at my desk during homework and research sessions, just to have to rush to work the next morning before classes. Then, squeezing every moment of intimate time in with my husband when we were actually home at the same time. As much as I was running back and forth everyday, getting a UTI was not the hurdle I wanted to be jumping!
Feeling sick, hurting, and running to the bathroom is not how anyone wants to spend their time, much less repeat it every few months!
What is a UTI and Why do Women get Them?
According to research, more than half of all women will develop a UTI in their lifetime. Many will even end up dealing with recurrent urinary tract infections (rUTIs), like me. Women are more likely to have UTIs; men only make up about 12% of infections.(1)
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is when there is an infection in some part of the urinary system: kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Rarely but occasionally, it can get very serious, and turn into sepsis. In the case of a UTI, it is called urosepsis.(2) The definition of “sepsis” has undergone many changes, but was defined in 2016 as a “life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection.”
Signs of a Lower UTI (in the urethra and bladder) considered an Uncomplicated UTI:
- Painful, burning, itching feeling when urinating
- Frequent urination or feel the need to urinate even if you don’t
- Pressure or cramping in the pelvic area or lower abdomen
- Dark, cloudy, or strange smelling urine
Signs of an Upper UTI (infection has traveled up to the ureters and kidneys) considered a Complicated UTI:
- Lower back pain or pressure
- Dark, cloudy, or strange smelling urine
Signs of Urosepsis
- UTI suspected/present
- Any of the above symptoms
- Abnormalities in body temperature (warm skin)
- Heart rate distress (bounding pulses, tachycardia)
- Respiratory rate distress
- Kidney dysfunction evidenced by decreased urine output
- Encephalopathy with an abrupt change in mental status
- Low platelet activity
Causes of UTIs
The most common cause of a UTI, according to this study, is E Coli. Although there are other bacteria that can cause an infection as well, like proteus, klebsiella, and enterococcus.(3)
Since the allopathic method is to treat with antibiotics, there are some cases of infections being multi-drug-resistant. Bacteria become drug resistant by learning to produce enzymes that deactivate antibiotics and making the target area smaller that the antibiotic would target.(4)
Bacteria enters the urinary tract during a bowel movement cleaning, sexual intimacy, or during other times where anything foreign to the body enters. Sometimes the bacteria stays lower in the urethra or bladder. However, sometimes it goes up into the upper urinary tract like the ureters or kidneys.
There is a microbiome or flora in the urinary tract that strives to stay balanced and healthy.(5) According to this study, it functions to balance the pH levels, prevent infections, and prevent other urogenital diseases.
Yeast, in particular, Candida albicans, can also cause an infection in the lower urinary tract infection. The symptoms are the same as other lower UTIs with an increased likelihood of the burning sensation during urination.(6)
Other Microbial Contaminants
Any time something enters the vaginal opening like during sexual activity, it is possible to bring in an impurity such as bacteria or other toxin that can then enter the urethra.(7) It can also cause irritation or a disruption in the microbiome causing an infection by creating a spot for a “bad” bacteria to thrive.(8) Even exposure to STDs can cause UTIs.(9)
If a male partner has used lotions or strong soaps on his member without thoroughly washing himself first, that can disrupt the microbiome. It is just like using douches and sprays, they can wreak havoc on the microbiome down there. Spermicides on contraceptives and, if sensitive to latex for example, this may cause irritation allowing for “bad” bacteria to thrive in. (10)
Factors that Heavily Contribute to Infections
Problems with the structure or function of the bladder can also cause a UTI to develop. An obstruction in the urethra or bladder that causes a place for the bacteria to start growing as well as reduces the bladder’s ability to fully empty.(11) Not emptying the bladder fully, leads to unhealthy pH levels, bacteria or other toxins building up.
If the nerve to the bladder does not send the signal to empty the bladder properly from damage like a lesion along the nerve, then that would have the same effect also.(12) Another reason the bladder may not empty often enough is not drinking enough fluids. Proper hydration is important!
Vitamin D Deficiency
All nutrients are important, and we should strive to have adequate levels of all nutrients. However, some nutrients have a wider impact than others. Vitamin D is a strong force in the immune system. When levels are low, our immune system is not as well regulated making it easier for bacteria, viruses, and other toxins to grow anywhere in the body. Vitamin D not only makes the immune system stronger to fight off an active infection, but can help prevent infections as well.(13)
There has been a correlation recognized with low Vitamin D levels and the onset or worsening of many infections and conditions.(14) With the increase in hospital acquired infections and drug-resistant strains, supplementing vitamin D is being researched more and more all the time.(15)
Learn more about vitamin D here!
An Estrogen Connection
When Estrogen decreases, the linings that inhabit the gut flora and UT flora thin. This disrupts the microbiome thus leading to less protection against UTIs.(16) Learn more about estrogen and other hormones in What No One Wants To Tell You About Hormone Balance Guide
Natural Remedies for UTIs
Over the years, many natural remedies have been shared. Here are some potential helpers:
Cranberries are one of the most popular natural remedies for UTI prevention and support. Cranberries help in a variety of ways. Properties in the cranberries support the gut microbiome and the health of the lining where the microbiomes in our body dwell. Cranberries are also antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. They have shown to be effective against a variety of infections including E. Coli and candida.(17)
Not only are cranberries helpful for UTIs, but they also have properties that help support blood sugars, metabolic processes, obesity, tooth decay/periodontitis, and Helicobacter pylori bacteria in the stomach.(18)
Cranberries can be added to your regular diet pretty easily. They are great dried as a plain snack or sprinkled into yogurt, salads, or as part of a “trail mix.” Cranberries are also easy to find in capsule form – but be sure to check the ingredients out first! It can be taken in powdered form and mixed into smoothies or applesauce. Cranberries are used in tinctures such as Earthley’s UT Relief.
As mentioned above, getting an adequate supply of vitamin D can help reduce the chances of getting an infection, and lessen the risks during an infection.
Getting 10 – 30 minutes of mid-day sunlight daily as many days per year as possible is the most ideal. Sun is the best source of vitamin D, and how our body was designed to get it. How much is absorbed will depend on several things:
- How much skin is exposed vs how much is blocked by clothing or harsh sunscreens
- Magnesium levels (magnesium is required for the biosynthesis of vitamin D)
- How high the sun is in the sky while you are outside (the higher above you, the stronger the rays hitting you)
- Cloud coverage blocking the sun’s rays
When you are not able to get in the sunlight, consume foods high in vitamin D for the body to use:
- Fish like salmon, cod, and tuna
- Cod Liver Oil (like in Earthley’s Vitamin D Cream)
- Beef Liver
- Egg yolks
We cannot make our own vitamin C, but we need it for proper immune function. It provides increased cellular immunity function for both prevention and mounting an “attack” against invading pathogens.(19) Ideally, you want the full benefits of vitamin C, so you’ll need to consume it every day – not just at the start of infection symptoms.. Some people struggle to get the recommended amount so they supplement with high dose ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is a component of vitamin C along with other components like the flavonol rutins.(20)
My favorite Vitamin C supplement is Earthley’s Immune-Aid. It is made from two of the highest sources of whole vitamin C: organic camu camu, organic acerola berry, and organic orange peel powder. Just add a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon a day to drinks, smoothies, or applesauce. I will use that amount more frequently during the day if I have signs of an infection.
How to add Whole Vitamin C to your diet:
- Camu Camu
- Acerola Berries
- Citrus fruits
- Green peppers
- And many more fruits and veggies!
Garlic has long been used for its strong antibacterial effects including against E. Coli, Pseudomonas, Staph, and many others. It is also antifungal, providing support against Candida, Trichophyton, and many more to help the balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria in the microbiome.(20) Garlic is also a strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune modulator to help against infections including UTIs. It also has a diuretic effect to help encourage healthy urine elimination.(21)
Garlic is another easy one to add to your diet – I sprinkle it on top of nearly everything! You can also add garlic cloves to soups, bone broths, or make your own honey-fermented garlic cloves! Just peel the garlic cloves and cover them all well in honey. Store the sealed jar in a cabinet remembering to turn the jar occasionally to make sure the honey covers it well. After a couple weeks, just pluck out a garlic clove as a snack. Added bonus – honey has some great antibacterial properties too!
We know that gut microbiotics are very important in reducing the risks of a “bad” bacteria overgrowth so adding “good” probiotics makes sense. There are studies that oral consumption of probiotics as well as vaginal application of probiotics is helpful to restoring the microbiome that protects against UTIs. The strain Lactobacilli is found in fermented milk products like yogurt.(22) These seem to be the most commonly researched probiotics for UTI prevention and support. Lactobacilli has been shown to “prevent the adherence, growth and colonization of uropathogenic bacteria.” A study with 324 women, determined drinking 100% berry juice with milk fermented dairy products showed a decrease in UTI contraction.(23)
Ways to add Probiotics to your diet:
- Fermented vegetables
- Sourdough bread
To help support the antibacterial effects while also providing a diuretic to help eliminate fluids and support the liver detox, dandelion is a great herb to add to your natural remedies cabinet! (24, 25, 26) You can often forage it right from your own backyard! It is easy to add to salads or use in tincture form!
Cramp bark helps support female hormones like estrogen, provides pain relief, and has shown helpful with ureteral stones (27, 28)
While eating cramp bark raw is not recommended, drying and using in tea or tincture form is most common.
Turmeric root and Black Pepper
Inflammation is often a contributing factor in UTIs (29) and one of the best supporting anti-inflammatory herbs is turmeric (and its supporting activating spice, black pepper. It has also been indicated in helping against UTIs.(30)
Turmeric and black pepper go well on many dishes, especially with garlic too. I add a lot of it to my bone broths and soups for the added benefits as well as the amazing golden coloring. It is easy to find in powdered form, capsule form, or in tinctures.
This is an amazing herb that has been used for UTIs for a long time. You can read more about it and how to use it here.
Tips to Avoid UTIs
- Wear loose clothing (31) and avoid harsh laundry detergents that can upset the microbiome balance (try natural, effective, and safe ingredient in your laundry soap)
- Wipe front to back when you use the bathroom to avoid feces getting in the urethra
- Sex tips: Be sure you and your partner have cleaned and rinsed well, urinate after sex, avoid using contraceptive ingredients that you are sensitive to – when possible. (32, 33, 34, 35)
- Drink plenty of water and urinate whenever the need arises – don’t hold it. Water intake increase can reduce UTIs (36)
- Take showers instead of or after baths
- Avoid using sprays, douches, or other feminine products that disturb the vaginal pH and microbiome(37)
- Avoid foods that irritate the bladder like (38, 39):
- Artificial sweeteners
- Inflammatory foods
- Processed sugar
- Tip: Plants are less acidic so they are helpful to add to the diet without causing upset to your pH levels!
I was surprised not to see my favorite go-to for UTI’s:
The herb, Uva Ursi
It can be found in a tincture or in pills; both work equally well.
I was having UTI’s quite often (getting too hot & sweaty at work) and the usual acidic products (cranberry, etc) had stopped working. I read somewhere that sometimes going to an alkaline internal level will help. I was miserable and couldn’t get in to see my doctor for 3 more days.
I used the tincture that first time 3 times
Daily and by the time I had my appointment, my UTI was gone! My doctor even questioned whether I’d even had a UTI. I explained what I had tried and my urine’s pH was 8.5 (very alkaline). He just scratched his head and said try it again next time and then you’ll know if it’s that or something else. It’s worked every time!
I’ve tried D-Mannose also, but I just don’t think it works as well or as fast.
Thanks for a great article!
We are glad that it worked well for you! Uva Ursi is a great herb for UTIs also! There are concerns though for some people to use it safely, and should be used only moderately for anyone so I chose not to add it since there are many other great options. The safety concerns for Uva Ursi are for children, elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, or those with high blood pressure. https://www.rjwhelan.co.nz/herbs%20A-Z/uva-ursi.html