Few things in life are more annoying, uncomfortable and even painful than a urinary tract infection (UTI). They can also cause some very serious consequences if not promptly treated, such as impaired kidney function or even a life-threatening infection.
While antibiotics are sometimes warranted, over-use can often cause more harm than good.
It’s important to understand what causes and exacerbates these kinds of infections so you can then use natural UTI remedies that really work.
The biology of UTIs
Women are more susceptible to UTIs because their urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body) is much shorter than it is for men. This means germs have a shorter distance to travel from the outside to the bladder, which is home base for most UTIs. The bacteria attach to the walls of the bladder and wreak havoc from there.
If the infection is not taken care of quickly, the infection can continue up the tubes that lead from the bladder to the kidneys, and a kidney infection can cause permanent damage to the vital role they play in flushing toxins and waste out of your body.
Traditional UTI treatment – antibiotics
The most common culprits causing UTIs are bacteria, usually Escherichia coli, otherwise known as E. coli. We commonly think of E. coli as the dangerous micro-organism that comes from unsanitary food processing. But this strain of E. coli is a normal part of healthy digestive flora – it just doesn't belong in the urinary tract.
The traditional approach of the modern medical establishment is a full round of antibiotics. Although this treatment will quickly eliminate the infection – which is sometimes necessary – there are often good reasons to seek alternatives for mild or slower bouts of UTIs.
Antibiotics don’t distinguish between good bacteria (gut flora) and bad bacteria, so taking them can wreak havoc on digestive and immune health.
Many women that suffer from reoccurring UTIs and treat them with antibiotics then wind up with a yeast infection because the antibiotics kill off the good bacteria that keep the yeast in check. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves many women feeling powerless to do anything about it.
For more information on why antibiotics are often a bad choice, read this post: How to Recover from Antibiotics.
UTI remedies that really work
The good news is that there are ways to treat a UTI without turning to antibiotics. Note, however, that if the infection is not going away within 4-5 days or you have symptoms of a possible kidney infection – such as a fever, severe back pain or blood in your urine – you may still need to use antibiotics. In these cases, you can use these remedies to prevent future infections from occurring.
Some basic common sense measures are to wear cotton underwear and loose fitting bottoms. After workouts, don't hang out in sweaty clothing. Avoid baths in favor of showers. Now let's looks at some less obvious UTI remedies…
Sugars are pure fuel for all kinds of pathogenic bacteria, including the ones most likely to cause a UTI. If you’re prone to UTIs, you have to vastly reduce your sugar intake as well as grains, alcohol, and pasteurized dairy products that are all rapidly turned into sugars in the body.
If you already have a UTI, the best thing you can do is immediately eliminate all of these foods from your diet. This will help you get a handle on the infection as quickly as possible. Keep your diet as simple as possible, focusing on filtered water, herbal teas, veggies, pasture-raised meats and fats, and homemade soups and stews.
Flush harmful bacteria from the urinary tract
While antibiotics go in like an atomic bomb and indiscriminately destroy microflora – both good and bad – there are a few tried and true supplements that gently flush out bacteria from the urinary tract while leaving beneficial bacteria intact.
Cranberry juice is one of the more commonly known UTI remedies. Cranberry juice contains a substance called epicatechin that prevents the offending bacteria from attaching to bladder walls and also acts as an antioxidant to support healthy immune function. That said, it is essential to avoid conventional cranberry juices that are also loaded with extra sugars which will negate the positive benefits.
Get unsweetened cranberry juice, at your local health food store (or in bulk online), dilute it in a ratio of about 1:8 with filtered water, and sip it all day long. This stuff is not cheap, but it is effective.
Another good option is a cranberry extract – like this one – which doesn't have the fructose or sugar you find in juice.
A third option, and quite powerful option, is D-mannose. It’s simple sugar found in peaches, apples and berries, including cranberries. It coats the E. coli bacteria in a way that prevents them from sticking to the inside walls of the bladder, allowing the bacteria to be flushed away with urine.
D-mannose is quickly absorbed in the upper GI tract, leaving all the beneficial E. coli where it’s needed in the lower GI tract. The D-mannose is then sent through the kidneys and bladder, where it can work its magic to flush out the E. coli from the urinary tract.
Chose a D-mannose powder derived from natural, non-GMO sources that has few additional ingredients – I recommend this one.
In my practice, I find that some patients find better results with cranberry and others with D-mannose. Experiment to see what works best for you – or use both.
Support your body's beneficial bacteria
Studies have shown that the consumption of fermented milk products containing probiotics (like yogurt and kefir) can help prevent UTIs (source). Again, it’s worth noting that yogurt is a great source of probiotics, but not all yogurts are created equal. Even the commercial organic brands are loaded with sugars that feed bad bacteria.
Consider taking a probiotic supplement to replenish the healthy flora in your system. This is my current favorite probiotic. As for foods, choose unsweetened, yogurt or kefir and other good sources of probiotics like kombucha or traditionally cultured sauerkraut, pickles or kimchi. Read more about the health benefits of fermented foods in this post.
Support a healthy immune system every day
For chronically recurring UTIs, it may be helpful to incorporate these UTI remedies on a regular basis while you work to build a healthier immune system capable of fighting off infections. You’ll find the most essential information you need for that in my articles 6 Immune Boosting Foods You May Be Missing and this post that contains an effective immune boosting protocol.
A final reminder: If your UTI is not resolved within 4-5 days or you have symptoms of a possible kidney infection – such as a fever, severe back pain or blood in your urine – you may still need to use antibiotics. This is a good time to visit urgent care.
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