Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are often treated with antibiotics — but are there other alternatives?
One common condition that many women experience is urinary tract infections. According to to Dr. Josh Axe, certified doctor of natural medicine and clinical nutritionist, ‘more than 50% of women will develop a UTI and UTI symptoms in their lifetimes, and because antibiotics are the most common conventional treatment for UTIs, bacteria have become antibiotic-resistant and recurring infections are a major concern.’
Whether your UTI has been caused by intimacy, pregnancy, or apparently nothing at all, here are some natural solutions to treating a UTI that don’t involve antibiotics.
Now, it’s important to use these natural treatments with the guidance of a medical health professional. Uncomplicated UTIs should clear up within 2-3 days. However, if symptoms are not subsiding, see your health care professional to ensure there aren’t any underlying problems.
UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract (typically through the urethra) and set up camp in the bladder. Any part of the urinary tract can become infected; the urethra, bladder, ureters, or kidneys, but generally UTIs start in the bladder or urethra.
According to Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, and founder of the health and wellness website, Wellness Mama, ‘research published in 2013 suggests that most UTIs are caused by E. coli, although other bacteria, viruses, and fungi can also lead to an infection. E. coli is a bacteria naturally found in both human and animal intestines but in large amounts can cause food poisoning and other kinds of infection.’
What Causes a UTI?
One of the reasons women are more susceptible to UTIs than men is because women have a shorter urethra, which makes it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder.
Other risk factors include:
- Poor hygiene habits. Teaching young girls to always wipe from front to the back can help prevent the spread of bacteria toward the vaginal opening. Drinking plenty of water and using the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge to go, can help prevent the build up of bacteria in the bladder.
- Using spermicides. Spermicides may change the pH of the vagina, which can alter the bacterial flora in the vagina.
- Sexual intercourse. Urinating after sex can help to flush out the bladder.
- Condoms and diaphragm use.
- A suppressed immune system. Immune dysfunction and pre-existing conditions can cause more frequent UTIs.
- Pregnancy. Due to changes in the pelvis and urethra during pregnancy, the risk of bacteria reaching the kidneys increases.
- Post-menopause. After menopause, the body produces less oestrogen which can cause the vaginal walls to become dry and thin, causing inflammation and infection more easily.
Signs & Symptoms of a UTI
Catching a UTI early can help increase your chances of avoiding antibiotics and successfully treating it with natural home remedies. Common signs and symptoms to watch out for include:
- Pain or burning sensation when urinating
- Strong, frequent need to urinate, but only pass small amounts of urine
- Muscle aches and abdominal pain
- Feel tired and weak
- Cloudy, dark, or strong-smelling urine
- Pelvic pain
- Pink or reddish-coloured urine – signals blood in the urine
- Confusion or delirium (in the elderly)
Sometimes antibiotics are needed, and that’s okay. It’s just about weighing up the benefits and risks.
If antibiotics are necessary, there are a few things you can do to support your body during this time while taking antibiotics. Chris Kresser, a leader in Functional Medicine and ancestral health, shares that along with taking antibiotics, it’s important to also ‘take probiotics and prebiotics, eat a variety of fermented foods (like sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, beet kvass, kimchi, homemade yoghurt, etc.) to support gut flora diversity,’ and ‘consume foods high in glycine (bone broths, unsweetened grass-fed gelatin, grass-fed meats, etc.) as well as ginger and milk thistle to support the gut and liver.’
If you find your UTI to be reoccurring, consider working with a naturopath or functional medicine doctor to determine what may be the root cause.
Natural Remedies for a UTI
Here are a few simple home remedies you can apply to help to address the underlying cause(s) of your UTI and prevent it occurring again in future.
This is may not have an immediate effect on a UTI, but can help address the issue over the long-term, and prevent it re-occurring again later down the track. This includes:
- Removing processed foods: The high levels of carbohydrates and sugar feed bad bacteria.
- Reduce sugar intake: Sugar inflames the body and can make infections worse. Remove sugar-filled foods and drinks, and even cut down on natural sugars like fruit, as bacteria don’t mind what sugar you eat, sugar is sugar to them.
- Drink plenty of water: This helps flush bacteria from your system. Dr. Axe recommends drinking ‘at least one glass of water for every meal and snack of the day in order to flush out bacteria that can lead to infection.’
- Consume a variety of anti-inflammatory and fermented foods – Fermented foods like sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, homemade yoghurt, kombucha, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, and other fermented vegetables are rich in probiotics. Anti-inflammatory foods include turmeric, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and dark leafy greens, etc.
- Supplement: Probiotics, Uqora, D-Mannose, and vitamin C are really helpful supplements for UTIs.
Urinating often or when the urge arises helps prevent bacteria growing in urine that sits in the bladder. Urinating right after sex can also help flush out bacteria that may be in the urethra.
Wear loose-fitting clothes and underwear, as this allows air-flow to the vagina and keeps the urethra dry. Tight-fitting jeans, damp swimmers or gym-wear, G-string underwear, or material like nylon can pose problems because moisture can be trapped, allowing bacteria to grow.
Herbal remedies for UTIs
Some herbal remedies include
- Cranberry juice: Avoid any store-bought cranberry juice with added sugars (as sugar feeds bacteria). Straight cranberry juice won’t have added sugars, and will often taste quite bitter.
- Clove oil: Contains anti-inflammatory properties, and may help relieve pain and encourage healing. Use under care of healthcare practitioner.
- Oregano oil: Nature’s antibiotic. Use under care of healthcare practitioner. According to Dr. Axe, ‘oregano oil benefits may be superior to prescription antibiotics because oregano doesn’t cause antibiotic resistance and it has no harmful side effects.’
- Garlic: Raw garlic contains antimicrobial properties.
- Myrrh oil: A natural antibacterial, antifungal and antiparasitic. Use under care of healthcare practitioner.
- Turmeric: Make turmeric tea, or add to meals, juices, smoothies, or other drinks.
- Parsley: A natural detoxifier and diuretic. Make into tea by steeping 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley in 1 cup boiling water for about 5 minutes. Do not have more than once per day.
- Dandelion and marshmallow root: Combining dandelion root and marshmallow root together creates a powerful UTI remedy.
Sometimes medical intervention may be necessary.
When to See a Medical Professional
See a medical professional about your UTI if:
- Continue to experience symptoms for more than 72 hours
- Experiencing chills, nausea, fever, lower-back pain, or vomiting
- Uncertain if your UTI needs further treatment.
If in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution and seek professional advice from your doctor.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
Have you tried any of these remedies before? What was your experience? Share in the comments below.
Lots of love,
Katie Wells. (2019, August 10). Home Remedies to Help Stop a Urinary Tract Infection. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/417595/urinary-tract-infection
Chris Kresser. (2019, June 04). What to Do If You Need to Take Antibiotics. Retrieved from https://chriskresser.com/what-to-do-if-you-need-to-take-antibiotics/
Ruggeri, Christine, CHHC. (November 13, 2016). Top 12 Natural Home Remedies for UTI. Dr. Axe. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/health/home-remedies-for-uti/
Link, Rachael, MS, RD. (Updated: April 23, 2017). 6 Home Remedies for Urinary Tract Infections. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/uti-home-remedies
Higuera, Valencia. (Updated: July 30, 2020). Women’s Wellness: UTI Treatment Without Antibiotics. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-wellness-uti-antibiotics
Huizen, Jennifer. (January 11, 2020). Seven ways to treat a UTI without antibiotics. Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322411
Konkel, Lindsey. (Reviewed: February 21, 2020). 8 Home Remedies for Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) Symptoms. Everyday Health. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/urinary-tract-infections/helpful-home-remedies-for-urinary-tract-infections.aspx
Shulman, Sara. (December 12, 2018). 5 Home Remedies for Instant UTI Relief. Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.prevention.com/health/a20517012/19-ways-to-ease-the-discomfort-of-a-urinary-tract-infection/