Halt the Vicious Cycle of Urinary Tract Infections
Novel Next-Generation Antimicrobial Protection
By Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH
A Potent New UTI Intervention
Native to Africa and Asia, Hibiscus sabdariffa has been used in some cultures to support bladder and kidney health. Traditional African practitioners use tea brewed from hibiscus calyxes (the green floral envelope of the blossom) as an acidic and anti-bacterial, both to acidify and deodorize urine and protect against UTIs and kidney stone formation.
Hibiscus boasts a range of powerful compounds that prevent E. coli from adhering to the urinary tract and bladder wall linings. Both the flower and calyx are abundant in bacteriostatic polyphenols, including flavonoids, sambubiosides, and proanthocyanidins. In particular, the flavonoid gossypetin (3,5,7,8,3,’ 4’-hexahydroxy flavone) found in hibiscus has been identified as a distinct antimicrobial compound with powerful effects.3 Together these natural agents have been shown to inhibit the activity of a host of microbes responsible for UTIs, including E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In fact, hibiscus’s mode of prophylaxis (prevention) and high concentration of bacteriostatic compounds may exert bacteriocidal (bacteria-killing) effects comparable to the antibiotic chloramphenicol—with none of the risks.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial, women taking hibiscus experienced a 77% reduction in UTIs.6 Sixty-one women participated in the 6-month study, and 59 women completed the entire study. All of them had a history of frequent UTIs (more than four per year, including one or more in the three months prior to the start of the study). The women were randomly assigned to one of three groups receiving a daily dose of 200 mg of hibiscus extract standardized to 90% polyphenols; 200 mg of hibiscus extract standardized to 60% polyphenols; or placebo. Compared to the control group, women taking the hibiscus concentrations experienced a 77% decrease in infections, as well as overall improvement in urinary comfort.
According to in vitro research, hibiscus also reduces contamination of both E. coli and Candida albicans, the fungus responsible for yeast infections.3,17,18 The antimicrobial effect was found to be immediate and complete after only one day. In addition, when hibiscus was compared to cranberry in vitro, the hibiscus had a stronger antimicrobial effect, particularly against Candida albicans.19
Hibiscus’s bacteriostatic/bacteriocidal compounds are excreted through urine in high concentrations, enabling them to reach the bladder and urinary tract intact, where they disable infectious bacteria.20
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common form of bacterial infection, accounting for 7 million office visits, 1 million emergency room visits, and 100,000 hospitalizations each year, with an estimated cost of $1.6 billion annually. One third of all women will contract a UTI by the age of 24. Once a woman has contracted a UTI, her risk of recurrence is 20%.
The proanthocyanidins in cranberry effectively prevent UTIs by blocking E. coli from adhering to the urinary tract and bladder. Cranberry is especially effective for women who endure numerous UTIs annually. Studies show that cranberry extract in pill form is more economical than drinking large quantities of 100% cranberry juice.
Like cranberry, extract of Hibiscus sabdariffa prevents bacteria that cause UTIs from adhering to the linings of the urinary tract and bladder wall and may also possess bacteriocidal effects. Abundant in polyphenolic compounds, hibiscus may exhibit bacteriocidal (bacteria-killing) properties comparable to the antibiotic chloramphenicol—without the antibiotic’s side effect profile. When compared to cranberry in vitro, hibiscus had a stronger antimicrobial effect, particularly against Candida albicans.
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Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH has been a health journalist since 1993; her latest book is The Green Tea Book, second edition (Penguin, 2007).
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