Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common infection that occurs along the urinary tract. Bacterial (or, rarely, fungal) infections can arise in the lower urinary tract (ie, bladder and urethra) or the upper urinary tract (ie, kidneys and ureters), which is more severe.
The bacteria that cause UTIs adhere to mucous membranes in the urinary tract, preventing bacteria from being cleared by the flow of urine, which is normally a deterrent to bacterial colonization. Antibiotics are generally used to treat UTIs; however, overuse of antibiotics can contribute to antibiotic resistance.
Natural interventions such as cranberry and probiotics may help prevent infection and support a healthy urinary tract.
What are the Risk Factors for Urinary Tract Infections?
- Female gender
- Family/personal history
- Sexual intercourse
- Low estrogen levels
- Recent antibiotic use
- Urinary flow abnormalities
- Urinary catheters
What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection?
Lower urinary tract infection:
- Painful stinging or burning while urinating
- More frequent urination
- Strong odor, cloudy, and/or off-colored urine
- Discomfort or pressure in lower abdomen or rectum
Upper urinary tract infection:
- High fever
- Flank/abdominal pain
- Frequent painful urination
What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Urinary Tract Infections?
What are Emerging Therapies for Urinary Tract Infections?
- Topical estrogen for recurring UTI, as low estrogen increases the risk of UTI
- FimH is a protein that is crucial for bacterial adherence to the urinary tract. FimH inhibitors have shown promise in animal models of UTI.
- Hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate are substances the bladder uses to make glycosaminoglycans, which line the inner surface of the bladder. As damage to this layer may play a role in recurrent UTIs, injecting hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate into the bladder may reduce recurrence.
What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes May Be Beneficial for Urinary Tract Infections?
- Increase fluid intake
- Do not delay urination—urinate as soon as possible after feeling the need
- Wear cotton underwear
- Wipe front-to-back to avoid transporting bacteria from anus to urethra
What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for Urinary Tract Infections?
- Cranberry. Evidence suggests compounds found in cranberries may interfere with the adhesion of bacteria to the urinary tract. Consumption or supplementation with cranberry is linked to reduced incidence of UTI.
- D-mannose. This sugar can bind to the cells that line the urinary tract and prevent bacteria from adhering to the lining.
- Blueberry. Blueberries, like cranberries, contain compounds that can inhibit the adhesion of bacteria to the cells that line the urinary tract. Both blueberries and cranberries also contain compounds that prevent large aggregates of bacteria from forming.
- Probiotics. Probiotics may prevent UTIs by competing with other bacteria for resources, secreting natural antibacterial chemicals, and preventing pathogenic bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract.
- Berberine. Berberine, a plant alkaloid, has natural antibacterial properties. It is not recommended for pregnant women or for long-term use.
- Hibiscus. Hibiscus plants contain many compounds that have antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties. A clinical study showed that women taking hibiscus extracts experienced fewer UTIs and overall improvement in urinary comfort.
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C is not only essential for immune function, it may also acidify the urine, which helps inhibit the growth of infectious bacteria in the urinary tract. Supplementation during pregnancy has been shown to reduce the incidence of UTI.
- Pumpkin seed extract. Pumpkin seed extract has been shown to support bladder function and combat symptoms associated with an overactive bladder, which may contribute to UTIs.