It starts as a twinge right after you urinate. Then you notice a burning during the next trip to the bathroom, which happened painfully soon after the last trip, and yielded little urine. Pretty soon you are automatically drinking more water so that at least something happens when you respond to the constant feeling of urging in your bladder. And then you realize, "Ahah, a bladder infection!"
We know that more than half of all women will experience the burning urgency of a urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetime. Although men also suffer from these infections, the occurrence is much less frequent due to anatomical differences. For both women and men, UTI symptoms are uncomfortable, and it can be frightening to experience cloudy, bloody, and painful urination.
Because bacteria are frequently the cause of UTIs, doctors almost always prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Although antibiotics will knock out the bacteria, they set a woman up for two potential complications. A rebound vaginal yeast infection is likely because antibiotics destroy all bacteria, even the beneficial microbes that protect intestinal and vaginal health. The link between urinary tract and yeast infections is so well established that many doctors simultaneously prescribe antibiotics and a vaginal antifungal cream. Eradicating helpful bacteria can even set the stage for a vicious cycle of urogenital infections, leaving a woman prone to recurring UTIs and yeast infections.
The second likely complication is interstitial cystitis (IC), or chronic inflammation of the bladder wall. IC occurs if antibiotics outlast the bacteria they target and their presence inflames the bladder lining. Appropriately prescribed courses for UTIs are as short as possible to avoid this problem.
There's a better way. Instead of relying on antibiotics, you can take a more holistic approach that strengthens your bladder against invading bacteria. You can also help prevent UTIs by implementing a few simple lifestyle practices. Learn to recognize the symptoms of a pending infection, and you can take immediate action with natural remedies.
Feeling the need to urinate frequently and urgently, painful or burning urination, a sensation of pelvic pressure, and lower abdominal discomfort are common symptoms of a bladder infection. You may also notice your urine has a strong odor, and it may appear cloudy, pink, or brown.
Most urinary tract infections are caused by the bacterium E. coli, a normal inhabitant of the intestinal tract. Eliminated from the body through bowel movements, E. coli bacteria are found around the anus. It's a short trip from the anus to the urethra, the urinary opening through which urine passes from the body. If these bacteria migrate up the urethra into the bladder, they can cause infection.
Because women have a much shorter urethra than men, they're far more likely to experience UTIs. Women are also more apt to suffer UTIs triggered by sexual activity, hence the term “honeymoon cystitis.” The aggravating factor is pressure on the opening to the bladder, so riding bicycles or horseback riding can also predispose to UTIs. Some birth control methods also make women more susceptible to infection (diaphragms put pressure on the urethra, and spermicides alter the pH of the vagina). Many women suffer frequent UTIs at menopause because hormonal changes cause tissues to become drier and thinner, thus increasing the risk of infection.
Your body has several defensive strategies against bacterial invasion. Urine has a natural pH level that discourages bacterial growth, and normal urination washes away bacteria that attempt to ascend through the urethra. The interior of the bladder has natural antimicrobial properties, and if bacteria do begin to multiply, your immune system starts cranking out increased numbers of infection-fighting white blood cells. You can support your body's defenses by drinking plenty of fluids to increase urine flow and by using natural substances that bolster immune response and prevent bacteria from adhering to the lining of the bladder.
You've likely heard that cranberry juice helps prevent and treat UTIs. Scientists have found cranberries contain a compound called D-Mannose, which helps prevent certain bacteria (E. coli) from adhering to the walls of the bladder. This means bacteria can be flushed out during urination before they multiply and cause an infection. But there's a problem with this simple remedy: To effectively prevent UTIs, you have to drink a glass of cranberry juice every day. Most cranberry juice is highly sweetened, and sugar wreaks havoc with blood sugar levels and impairs immune function. Unsweetened cranberry juice is an option, but many people dislike the intensely sour flavor.
A better alternative to cranberry juice is a concentrated extract of D-Mannose, which is 10-50 times more potent than cranberry juice. This safe, natural remedy effectively halts the vast majority of UTIs within a couple of days and can be used for prevention as well as treatment.
Other ways to keep your bladder and urinary tract healthy are to drink plenty of fluids, especially pure water. This keeps the bladder cleansed and prevents the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. A diet rich in naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir nourishes a population of healthy flora and protects the urinary tract from invaders. To prevent the proliferation of opportunistic bacteria, it's essential to avoid all sweeteners, including concentrated fruit juices. If you suffer from recurring UTIs, it's worth the effort to investigate the possibility of food allergies. A food diary can help you identify problematic foods.
For menopausal women, local hormone applications can strengthen the bladder's natural defenses against infection.
If chills, nausea, or pain in the mid-back accompany symptoms of a bladder infection, however, this may signal a kidney infection. Immediately consult your health care practitioner if you experience any of these more serious symptoms. Kidney infections require antibiotics to prevent potentially permanent and life-threatening kidney damage.
With these cautions in mind, know that most urinary tract infections may be safely treated without antibiotics. Learning to recognize the early warning signs of a bladder infection and taking immediate action will enable you to nip urinary tract infections in the bud-the natural way.
For the greatest improvement with the fewest steps, do the following:
- Stop eating all sweeteners. Sugar impairs the body's ability to fight infection. The worst sweets are likely to be those with high-fructose content such as soft drinks.
- Pure Encapsulations D-Mannose Powder. Take 1 teaspoon (adults) and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (children) three to four times daily. Continue for two to three days after symptoms have disappeared.
- Urinate fully to clean out the bladder. Urinate whenever you have the urge, or after any time you have pressure against the urethra, and be sure it's a generous and well-diluted urination.
A comprehensive program involves many areas in which action steps can be taken gradually or all at once. Start by following the basic nutrition and healthy lifestyle guidelines with the following modifications:
Savor Helpful Foods
- Fermented foods. Sauerkraut, lacto-fermented pickles, Kombucha (see recipe), and kefir made from raw milk are rich in friendly microorganisms that encourage a healthy urinary tract. Fermented drinks like Kombucha are superior to pure water, especially in their ability to relieve thirst during or after physical exertion. Eat or drink a small portion of fermented foods at the beginning of each meal.
- Fermented raw milk or raw milk that contains acidophilus is particularly helpful for combating UTIs. To make a homemade beverage rich in beneficial bacteria, combine kefir grains with raw milk and let it sit in a warm place overnight.
- Cranberry juice is helpful only if it is unsweetened 100-percent juice. D-Mannose, the active ingredient in cranberry juice, is more effective on its own.
Foods to Avoid
- Eliminate all forms of sugar. Avoid all sweeteners, including cane sugar, dextrose, glucose, and agave syrup. Even though they are natural, avoid honey and maple syrup. All forms of sugar decrease your body's ability to fight UTIs or any other kind of infection. Avoid all processed foods containing high-fructose corn syrup.
- Foods you are allergic to. Allergic reactions can cause swelling and inflammation in the urethra and bladder, making it much more difficult to treat UTIs. The most reliable test for food allergies is self-testing, which can help identify allergens and end the frustration of recurrent UTIs. Start by avoiding the main food groups that cause allergic reactions: dairy, gluten/wheat, soy, corn, eggs, and citrus (see Allergy Elimination Diet).
- Pure Encapsulations D-Mannose Powder or Now Foods D-Mannose Capsules or Powder. For acute urinary tract infections, take 1 teaspoon for adults and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon for children every two to three hours, continuing for two to three days after symptoms have disappeared. For chronic, recurring UTIs, take 1 teaspoon daily (indefinitely to prevent) or substitute 4 capsules three times daily at the onset, tapering to 4 capsules daily. D-Mannose is highly effective against UTIs caused by E. coli, the organism responsible for approximately 90 percent of bladder infections. Note: If you have a tendency to get UTIs from intercourse, take 1 tablespoon of D-Mannose one hour prior to intercourse and 1 tablespoon immediately afterward.
- The Synergy Company Pure Radiance Vitamin C. Take 2 capsules daily.
- NewMark Women's Synbiotic Nutrients. Take 2 capsules daily anytime.
- Integrative Therapeutics Probiotic Pearls. Take 2 daily between meals as an excellent source of lactobacillus, the helpful organism in the fermented foods mentioned above. It is also effective to insert lactobacillus probiotics directly into the vagina. Apply through a yogurt-soaked tampon or a dissolving capsule.
- For women, urinating before and after sexual contact as well as washing vaginal and labial tissues with water before and after sexual contact can be helpful. Also urinate after any activity that puts repeated pressure on the urinary opening (e.g., sexual activity, cycling or horseback riding).
- An extremely important caveat is that IF you urinate after sexual contact and actually pass very little urine, you have opened the door to the bladder without “flushing” it. If this happens, drink a large glass of water so your next urination is a full one.
- Many women suffer from chronic urinary tract infections caused by position during intercourse. Changing positions may alter the friction on your urethra. Experiment with positions to see if this helps reduce the occurrence of infection.
- Other sexually related factors that may contribute to UTIs include chemicals in intra-vaginal spermicides, unlubricated condoms, or pressure from a diaphragm on the urethra or urinary opening.
- Drink plenty of pure water (see Water Filters).
- Never hold your urine; go as soon as possible when you feel the urge. Holding urine causes bacteria to multiply.
- Avoid scented vaginal products such as tampons, douches and sprays. These products can cause UTIs and other infections.
- Wipe from front to back after bowel movements.
- Wear cotton underwear or underwear with a cotton crotch. Synthetics hold moisture and create a breeding ground for bad bacteria.
- Never sit in a bubble bath or use soap on delicate urethral or vaginal tissues. In general, take showers instead of baths and rinse your genital area with plain water, which is sufficient for cleansing. If you choose to take a bath, make sure there are no cleanser residues in the tub.
- Don't smoke.
- If you are menopausal and suffer from frequent UTIs, discuss the option of vaginal estrogen with your physician.
Homeopathic treatment for bladder infections is often highly effective when the symptoms match one particular remedy picture. Select the best remedy and take it in a 30C potency, two pellets three times daily, for two days. When there is improvement, reduce the dose over three to five additional days. Stop when you are well. Homeopathic treatment should never prevent you from consulting a physician if you have persistent discomfort, fever, or pain in your back accompanying bladder symptoms.
Most Important Remedies
- The pains from the bladder are stitching and shoot into thighs, abdomen or back.
- The pains are worse from any motion or jarring.
- The pains are better during urination.
- Exquisite pain is the predominant symptom when Cantharis is helpful. The pain is described as either burning or stinging.
- The pains are better after urination, but only briefly, and somewhat better from cold applications.
- The pain are worse during and at the end of urination.
- Any sign of blood in the urine would indicate the need for this remedy.
- Urging is constant and never significantly relieved, as only a small amount of urine passes.
- The pains are better from warm applications or bathing
- There may be urging for stool with the urine, and the person may be quite irritable.
- The pain is burning and right at the opening to the bladder
- The pains are worst at the very end and after urinating.
- Urging is frequent, but relieved by the amount of urine which is normal, not reduced as for Nux Vomica.
- When the infection begins right after sex, this is the first remedy to consider.
- The pains are burning and accompanied by urging, and not relieved by urinating.
A few simple precautions can help you avoid urinary tract infections. Good hygiene is essential to preventing UTIs. Always wipe from front to back to keep bacteria away from the urethra. Don't use scented toilet paper, perfumed or deodorized soaps, bubble bath, or feminine hygiene products, all of which dry out delicate vaginal tissues and make it easier for infection to occur. Choose showers over baths, and use only pure water to cleanse your genital area.
Because UTIs can be triggered by sexual activity, it's a good idea to wash your genital area and to urinate before and after sex. If you participate in activities that put prolonged pressure on the urethra (including sex, bicycling, or horseback riding) drink plenty of water so you can completely void your bladder afterward. If you are prone to frequent urinary tract infections, you may find it helpful to take D-Mannose prior to and following sexual activity.
Make it a habit to drink plenty of fluids every day, especially pure water and herbal teas. Your need for fluids varies according to your diet, your level of activity, and the climate and season, but a good general guideline is to drink enough so you need to urinate every couple of hours. This keeps your bladder cleansed and free of trouble-causing microorganisms. And remember: Go when your body gives you the signal! Holding urine gives bacteria the opportunity to proliferate.
My office experience suggests that for a simple UTI, the First Steps are almost always sufficient. The Full Program is helpful for someone who has repeated UTIs, particularly if they have resorted to antibiotic treatment along the way.
The lining of our urinary bladders is an unnoticed entity until it is inflamed and then it is inevitably in the front of our consciousness. Jill seemed always on the verge of a UTI. Not sexually active, nor a cyclist, nor a horseback rider, all of which put pressure against the urethra, she was in another risk group. As an “ultra-marathon” runner, she took off into the hills for 50 mile runs on Saturday, amazingly needing very few stops to urinate, and never very much. By Monday felt the effects of too little fluid rinsing out her bladder two days previously, complaining of typical UTI symptoms, which she slowly controlled before the next weekend's run. The symptoms seemed more severe in warm months, and I was never sure if it was from dehydration or the likelihood of some irritating yeast from sweating in running shorts for 4-5 hours on her long runs.
After confirming that her UTIs came from E. coli and were therefore susceptible to D-Mannose, we planned that she should stay on D-Mannose consistently for a month, continue her usual daily vitamin and low sugar routines, and also add in a regular probiotic. We chose Probiotic Pearls so she could carry them with her, taking some during the run, and 3 times daily for 48 hours after the run. She also resolved to drink enough water to accomplish two ends: first, to get her up to urinate three times during the night on Saturday, and second, to have no color in her urine on Sundays.
Success was such that not only the UTIs but the tendency to UTIs went away for her, and she was able to stop the D-Mannose. She kept up the fluid push after her run and a somewhat reduced dose of probiotics, and is still a happy runner.
This information is provided for educational purposes only, and any individual diagnosis or treatment should be determined by you and your doctor. See additional information.