If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll know I love natural remedies as a first step to fighting off common ailments. One common condition that many women (and some men) experience is urinary tract infections. Whether it’s been caused by intimacy, pregnancy, or apparently nothing at all, if you have contracted this ailment and are looking for a solution that doesn’t involve using antibiotics, here are some helpful tips I’ve come across (in particular, from Wellness Mama who shared some great advice on the matter) to deal with UTIs naturally.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
A UTI generally occurs when bacteria enters the urinary tract (typically through the urethra) and begins to multiply in the bladder. The urinary tract is made up of the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys (which is why kidney infections often stem from unaddressed urinary tract infections). Any part of the urinary tract can become infected, but typically UTIs start in the bladder or urethra. If left untreated, the infection can make its way to the kidneys which can have a severe impact on your health.
The majority of UTIs are caused by the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli), although other bacteria, fungi, and viruses can also lead to an infection. E.coli is a bacteria naturally found in the digestive tract of both humans and animals, but in large amounts can cause food poisoning and other types of infections.
What Causes a UTI? How Do You Get It?
Gender plays a big role in the likelihood of contracting a UTI. According to an article published in Medscape, UTIs are 14 times more frequent in women than in men. One factor thought to play a part in this is that women have a shorter urethra, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder.
Other risk factors that can cause a urinary tract infection include:
- Poor hygiene habits. Teaching young girls (and even yourself) to always wipe from the front to the back can help prevent the spreading of bacteria toward the vaginal opening. Also ensuring you drink plenty of water and use the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge to go can help prevent the build up of bacteria in the bladder.
- Using spermicides. According to a 2019 study in the Therapeutic Advances in Urology Journal, spermicides can change the pH of the vagina, which in turn can change the bacterial profile of the vagina too (some bacteria grow better or worse in certain pH environments).
- Sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse can carry bacteria from the genitals and anus into the urinary tract. If you notice that frequent sexual intercourse leads to UTIs, it can help if you urinate after sex to immediately flush out the bladder, and also giving the drink Uqora a go may help (I talk more about it below).
- Catheters. Using catheters may also lead to UTIs, as suggested in the 2019 study (I mentioned above), catheter use may also increase the risk of developing UTIs and lead to other problems.
- Using barrier methods of birth control. According to a 2011 study, condoms, diaphragms, and other barrier methods can increase the risk of contracting a UTI.
- Immune system conditions. Immune dysfunction and preexisting conditions can cause more frequent UTIs. Metabolic disease and autoimmune diseases are two conditions that can have this effect, according to a 2013 review. It makes sense that an immune system that is not functioning well can bring about more infections in general, as it’s not responding as it should. However, some research published in 2010 found that normal immune response to a UTI may damage the bladder and lead to more infections.
- Pregnancy. Many women have experienced more frequent UTIs (or even their first UTI) during pregnancy. Why? According to an article published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine, it is thought that due to changes in the pelvis and urethra during pregnancy, the risk of bacteria reaching the kidneys increases.
- Post-menopause. Following menopause, a women’s body produces less oestrogen which can cause the vaginal walls to become dry and thin, which can cause inflammation and infection more easily, according to the 2019 study mentioned above.
Just a side note; in case you’re worried about contracting a UTI because you have one of these risk factors, you can rest assured knowing it’s not set in stone, and might not even happen! Just because you may have one of the risk factors, doesn’t mean you will be destined to get a UTI. There are many things you can do to prevent, and even help get rid of, a UTI.
Signs and Symptoms of UTIs
Knowing the signs and symptoms, particularly if you’ve never had one before and aren’t sure what to look out for, can help you catch a UTI in the early stages and address it before it progresses.
By catching a UTI early, it increases your chances of avoiding antibiotics and successfully treating it with natural home remedies.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Pain or burning sensation in the vagina when urinating
- A regular or frequent need to urinate (you often feel you need to go, but only a small amount of urine comes out)
- Cloudy, dark, or foul-smelling urine
- Pink or reddish-coloured urine – this signals blood in the urine (this is often a symptom that signals a more serious infection)
- Discomfort and pain in the lower abdomen
Common Conventional Treatments for UTIs
If you notice a UTI coming on, and you head over to the doctor’s, you may often find you’ll be prescribed antibiotics. I often try to avoid antibiotics until absolutely necessary, given what I know about them.
Some of the negative side effects of antibiotics include:
- Eliminates both “good and bad” bacteria (good in the sense it wipes out the unhealthy bacteria, but not so good that it takes healthy bacteria with it – this post on antibiotic resistance explains more in-depth)
- Upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhoea, bloating
- Rash, irritated skin
- Pain in muscles and joints
- Increased risk of antibiotic resistance
Sometimes antibiotics are needed, and that’s ok. It’s just about weighing up the benefits and risks, and not treating them like “lolly water” by taking them for any and all ailments, no matter how small.
If antibiotics are necessary, there are a few things you can do to support your body during this time while taking antibiotics (the following suggestions are recommended by Chris Kresser):
- Take probiotics and prebiotics (which are “food” for probiotics)
- Eat a variety of fermented foods (like sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, etc.)
- Consume foods high in glycine (bone broths, unsweetened grass-fed gelatin, meats, etc.)
If you find urinary tract infections to be reoccurring (even with antibiotics), consider working with a naturopath or functional medicine doctor to determine what the root cause may be.
Natural Remedies for UTIs
If you’re currently experiencing a UTI (or may suspect one coming on), there are some home remedies that may help treat the infection and prevent it reoccurring in future. The following tips may help to naturally treat and prevent a UTI at home (suggestions recommended by Wellness Mama).
Studies have found that diet (among other factors) can have an impact on the health of your urinary tract specifically. Just bear in mind, if you already have the beginnings of a UTI, changing your diet may not be enough to reverse it, but these tips can help to prevent infections in future (as well as improve overall health!).
Remove Processed Foods
Processed foods are high in carbohydrates and sugar which feed bad bacteria.
Minimise Your Intake of Sugar
Sugar is an inflammatory substance which only makes infections worse. If you’re someone who contracts UTIs easily, removing sugar-filled foods and drinks is a good place to start. It may even be a good idea to reduce the amount of natural sugars (like fruit) that you eat too, as bacteria don’t mind what sugar you consume, sugar is sugar to them.
Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking water helps the body flush out toxins remaining in the system. I keep a reusable bottle with me at all times just to sip on throughout the day, and even set a target on how many bottles of water I must drink that day to ensure I’m keeping hydrated (don’t over do it though 😉).
When Addressing a UTI, Stay Clear of Acidic Foods
Consuming anything that will increase the acidity of your urine can make a UTI more challenging (and often more painful) to treat. It can be a good idea to avoid caffeine, chocolate, tomatoes, and citrus foods/drinks during a UTI.
Consume a Variety of Anti-inflammatory and Fermented Foods
Probiotics play a vital role in urinary tract health. They provide the body with a supply of good bacteria that will keep that bad bacteria at bay. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, organic whole milk yoghurt (containing “live AND active” cultures), kombucha, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, etc. naturally contain probiotics. Some great anti-inflammatory foods to include are turmeric, fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, etc. nuts and seeds (soaked or sprouted preferably), and dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, collards, etc.
When the body is properly supported, and it’s receiving all the right nutrients, it can often rebalance itself.
Probiotics and Other Supplements
Food is definitely where you want to be getting majority of your nutrients from, but sometimes supplements are necessary to give your body an extra boost.
The body is full of billions of beneficial bacteria (known as probiotics) that help fight off and keep bad bacteria a bay. Increasing this supply of good bacteria may be of benefit to women who suffer from reoccurring infections. There are also many additional health benefits to taking probiotics regularly (just ensure the probiotic you’re having is a high quality supplement, or it may not be doing anything!)
This supplement was recommended by Wellness Mama herself, and is specifically designed to prevent UTIs. It naturally encourages the body to eliminate harmful bacteria while maintaining and strengthening good bacteria. There are 3 forms of Uqora that help UTIs in numerous ways:
- Target. It binds to bacteria, increases urinary flow to flush out bacteria, boosts the immune system, and alkalises the urine making it more challenging for bacteria to grow and thrive.
- Control. This supplement contains D-Mannose and attacks biofilm (a film that protects bacteria) making it easier for the body to flush out bacteria.
- Promote. Supports probiotic growth in the body, in particular Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri, which are two strains proven to help restore the microbiome of the vagina.
D-Mannose may help with recurrent UTIs, according to a 2016 study in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Science. It makes it difficult for bacteria to stick to the walls of the bladder, and easier for the body to flush them out through urination. Katie Wells (Wellness Mama) recommends putting 1 tablespoon of D-Mannose in a glass of water 3 times a day for at least 2 days when she starts to feel a UTI coming on.
This nutrient can be found naturally in many foods like kale, broccoli, kiwi, lemons, oranges, etc. but can also be taken as a supplement to help prevent UTIs.
Now it’s important to keep in mind that supplements and probiotics should be taken alongside a healthy a diet, not in place of.
There are quite a few herbs believed to have soothing properties to help with urinary tract infections, some of which include:
This is one of the most well-known remedies for UTIs. Cranberry may reduce the risk of contracting a UTI in healthy women, according to a 2019 study published in Current Developments in Nutrition. Just ensure you read the labels of any cranberry juice you purchase to avoid any with added sugars (as sugar feeds bacteria). Straight cranberry juice won’t have added sugars, and will often taste quite bitter. If you can’t get past the taste, there are cranberry capsules you can take instead.
As I mentioned earlier, turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb, and may help to relieve the burning sensation commonly associated with UTIs. You can make turmeric tea, or add this herb to meals, juices, smoothies, or other drinks.
This herb has detoxifying properties and is also a wonderful diuretic (increases urine flow). This herb is great in a tea which you can either purchase from the store, or alternatively steep 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley in 1 cup boiling water for about 5 minutes. (It was recommended not to have more than 1 cup of parsley tea a day).
A Blend of Dandelion and Marshmallow Root
Dandelion root can be beneficial during a UTI as it contains diuretic and cleansing properties. Marshmallow root is a demulcent, which simply means it soothes irritated tissue in the body by forming a protective barrier around it. Combining these two together creates a great UTI remedy.
Please let me know what you thought of these remedies (or if you have any other natural remedies to try) in the comments below! If you’re looking for more natural treatments for different ailments, feel free to check out my natural remedies page.
When To Seek More Help
Sometimes simple home remedies are all that is needed to help treat a UTI, but other times medical intervention may be necessary.
See a medical professional if:
- You are pregnant
- Have tried home remedies, but continue to experience symptoms for more than 72 hours
- Are experiencing chills, nausea, fever, lower-back pain, or vomiting (the infection may have spread to the kidneys)
- Are uncertain whether your UTI needs additional treatment
In some cases, professional medical help is needed. If in doubt, it is best to stay on the safe side 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.
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What is a natural remedy you’ve found helpful in treating a UTI?
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/