Yesterday, I had to explain to a male co-worker why women get urinary tract infections (aka bladder infections or “UTIs”) more often than men. “Ahem,” I stuttered, “Not sure how to put this…especially in an open cubicle workspace…but it has to do with the – the – the differences in our, um, well, our anatomies.”
“Oh,” he said. Then, “OH!” I could see the light bulb shining brightly over his head. “Okay, say no more.” I started chuckling a bit to myself, and then a light bulb came on over my head as well. It hit me that this would be a great topic to blog on, especially since the conventional treatment for urinary tract infections (also called “cystitis”) involves antibiotics, and since there are some very effective herbal remedies for UTIs that most people may not know about. Yep, it’s right up my alley. So here goes.
Why DO women get UTIs more often than men?
It’s funny how I have no compunction discussing this with “the world” via blog post, but can’t seem to muster up the words to explain it to my co-worker. Basically, bladder infections happen because bacteria from the rectum or vagina travel upward along the urethra and cause inflammation in the bladder. This “traveling upwards” of the bacteria is usually caused by sexual intercourse, because as you can imagine, during this activity, the bacteria get “shifted around” a bit. In a woman, the urethra is much shorter than in a man, so the bacteria has only a short distance to travel before reaching the bladder. Hence, why we suffer from UTIs so much more often than men.
Signs & Symptoms of a UTI
If you’ve never had a bladder infection before, God bless you. I’ve had 5 UTIs in my life, and I would never wish one on my worst enemy. Basically, it feels like you’re pissing out fire and swords – or fiery swords – when you go to the bathroom. Yes, it burns. And yes, it’s painful. And during a UTI, you feel the urge to urinate a LOT (even though only a small amount may come out). In general, a bladder infection is not a “serious” medical condition, but if you leave it untreated, the bacteria could get all the way up to your kidneys (called “pyelonephritis”), at which point, it DOES become serious. Conventional medical wisdom is to prescribe some kind of antibiotic regimen for 7 to 9 days (which you have to finish, or else the bacteria could come back).
5 Ways to Prevent UTIs
Always attempt to pee after intercourse. You may not even feel the urge, but the act of doing this will help tremendously.
- Wipe DOWN after urination. VERY important, because wiping up may inadvertently help the bacteria into the urethra.
- Increase your water intake. Increasing water intake increases the flow of urine, which helps fight UTIs.
- Regularly drink unsweetened cranberry or blueberry juice. Cranberry juice has been shown to be effective in combating UTIs, but make sure to get the kind that is not loaded down with sugar. Unsweetened blueberry juice is also a good alternative, and I’ve read that watermelon juice is also a great support for UTI prevention.
- Drink kidney- or bladder-supporting tisanes (or teas). Herbs like parsley, uva ursi (or bearberry), buchu, cleavers, and juniper berries are good diuretics, so they help the kidneys do a better job of urine formation. Some good recipes for kidney and bladder support teas are on my Bladder Infection resource page.
Remedies for an Acute Bladder Infection
Yes, an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, but what if you’ve already got a raging UTI? Here are some ideas that might help if your life has been taken over by a bladder infection:
- The herb uva ursi, or bearberry, (or more formally, Arctostaphylos uva ursi), is a potent weapon in fighting bladder infections. There is a component called “arbutin” in uva ursi that when excreted in urine, converts to hydroquinone, which has an anti-bacterial impact on the urinary tract. If you want to take uva ursi during a UTI, the dosage is 1 to 2 teaspoons of the infusion, 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of the tincture (1:5), or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the fluid extract (1:1) in a large glass of water. The frequency is 3 times per day. (I explained these herbal preparations in a previous post, in case you can’t remember what an infusion, tincture, or extract are).
- The herb Goldenseal (or Hydrastis canadensis), is also a powerful antibacterial (because of the berberine content) that is useful during acute bladder infections. To use Goldenseal, the dosages are: 2/3 to 1 teaspoon of the infusion, or 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of the tincture (1:5), or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the fluid extract (1:1), in a large glass of water. Just like uva ursi, the frequency is also 3 times per day.
- When you don’t test positive for pathogenic bacteria, alkalinize the urine: This can sometimes happen, and it happened to me once. I experienced all the horrible symptoms of a UTI, but when I went to the doctor and peed in a cup, the results came back negative for UTI-causing bacteria. So they did not give me antibiotics. Naturopathic doctors Murray and Pizzorno recommend “alkalinizing” the urine by taking citrate salts such as potassium citrate or sodium citrate, at the dosage of 125 to 250 mg, 3-4 times daily. For more of their naturopathic approach to medicine, I would greatly recommend their book, “Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.”
Anyone else have any tried-and-true natural remedies for UTIs that they want to share?