If you need to dash to the loo every few minutes and it burns like hell to pee, then this may mean the familiar (but dreaded) urinary tract infection (UTI) is coming on. You can feel quite unwell with a UTI, with a heavy dragging feeling down below, and it can make you quite weepy and sad when you are suffering. It can be so bad that many women feel uncomfortable even leaving the house when they have a bout of cystitis. Read on to discover what can cause UTIs and how to prevent them reoccurring, so you can be released from the miserable cycle of back-to-back UTIs.
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The low-down on UTIs
Most women and young girls experience the occasional bladder infection, called cystitis or urinary tract infection, which can affect any part of the urinary tract including the kidneys. Cystitis can often be nipped in the bud quite easily by drinking plenty of water and taking over the counter cystitis treatments.
However, some women and girls seem to be more susceptible than others to more significant bacterial infections of the kidneys and urinary tract, which can mean regular rounds of antibiotics and a great deal of discomfort.
The times when a woman might be more susceptible to UTIs are when they are first sexually active, during pregnancy and after the menopause when the loss of the hormone oestrogen causes the tissue “down below” to become thin and dry. Men and women with epilepsy and diabetes are also more likely to get regular UTIs. Sometimes it can seem like the infections are never ending without much of a break. One young girl I saw in my clinic had received over 120 courses of antibiotics before the age of 9 years old due to UTIs, and she had only just been referred to a urologist for further testing.
The standard recommendations to prevent recurring UTIs are to wipe from front to back after using the loo, to drink plenty of water and to wear cotton underwear. If a woman is sexually active, she will be told to wash immediately after intercourse, and some are advised to take a prophylactic antibiotic to prevent an infection from occurring. The antibiotics can make them feel quite grotty so this is not a nice way to round off a romantic time in bed.
However the great news is that there are other ways to support the health of the urinary tract to prevent an infection as well as to break the cycle of back-to-back urinary infections. Obviously if you feel unwell, you have kidney pain or you are passing blood, then see a medical doctor as soon as you can.
How to break the cycle of repeated UTIs
The women in my family have certainly had their fair share of cystitis and UTIs as well as kidney infections and often a susceptibility can run in families. I have tried to pass down some pearls of wisdom to my daughter, so these don’t become the bane or her life. I thought I would also share these with you.
Here are my top tips to either weave into daily habits to prevent infections or to take at the first twinge of cystitis or a UTI if you feel one coming on. These nutrition tips are there to empower you to help strengthen your kidney and bladder health over time.
- Hydration is key and at first twinge or sign of cystitis or a bladder infection it is important to increase your liquid intake. Ideally this would be by drinking plenty of filtered water, however herbal teas and coconut water can also be helpful. Even though probably the last thing you want to do is to urinate when you have a UTI, it is the best thing to do as often as possible, to help to flush out the bacterial infection. So always drink plenty and have a bathroom close to hand.
- Cranberries – eating cranberries or drinking cranberry juice would be one of the first things I would turn to. Cranberries contains special sugars called proanthocyanins (PACs). Research has found that these unique PACs in cranberry block E. coli from binding to the lining of the bladder. (E-coli is the main bacteria that causes UTIs.) Most cranberries and cranberry juice are sweetened, however there are some lovely sugar-free cranberry juices on the market that are less tart than you think. If you don’t like the juice then try a food supplement containing cranberry powder instead.
- D-Mannose is a single sugar known as a monosaccharide that studies have found can prevent bacterial infections from binding to the lining of the bladder. It is often taken to prevent recurrent urine infections and can also help during an active bladder infection. D-mannose is a sugar present in cranberries, apples, oranges, peaches, broccoli, green beans, dandelion, hibiscus and rosehips. You can also buy it as a stand-alone food supplement in powder form that can be added to water or any other cold or room temperature liquid or fruit puree.
- Watermelon – watermelon flesh is sweet, juicy and hydrating and can be a good way to increase fluids and there is some scientific evidence that watermelon can help to flush out bacterial infections affecting the urinary tract. However, don’t forget the watermelon seeds, which also are also known to have antibacterial activity against bladder-based bacterial infections. So, blend up the watermelon flesh together with the seeds to make a smoothie to help to support bladder health.
- Celery juice – celery juice is one of the best ways to help flush out bacterial infections from the bladder. It is not everyone’s favourite taste, so combine with other kidney-friendly juiced fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears, cucumber, carrots, parsley, lemon and ginger. You can also buy celery seed tea.
- Live-bacteria – consuming cultured foods such as kefir and live yoghurt which are rich in good bacteria, are helpful at restoring harmony to the urinary tract microbiome known as the urobiome after taking a course of antibiotics. Scientists have found that the urobiome can be supported by arming it with beneficial bacteria and this can also play a role in helping to prevent future infections. Emerging research is finding that working on building up a diverse and healthy gut microbiome and urinary tract microbiome can help to prevent UTIs in both adults and children. If you are dairy-free or feel you need additional support from more targeted beneficial bacterial strains that support kidney and urinary tract health, then you can purchase specialist live bacteria food supplements.
I hope that these nutrition tips help you become more confident with your bladder health. If you or your daughter are struggling with frequent urinary tract infections, then consider talking to our NatureDoc clinical team who specialise in Women’s Renal Health, and for younger children with UTIs speak to our Children’s Nutrition team. Our nutritional therapists can run in-depth tests such as a Urinary Microbiome Test, to get a better understanding of which pesky bacteria are lingering in your urinary tract and which specific beneficial bacteria can help. They can also look at many other factors such as declining levels of oestrogen during perimenopause, which might be driving your regular UTIs and help you to get on top of these once and for all and break that terrible cycle.
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- Urinary tract infection in women
- Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Management in Women
- Urinary Tract Infection in Children
- Examination of Complementary Medicine for Treating Urinary Tract Infections Among Pregnant Women and Children
- Cranberry: Chemical Composition, Antioxidant Activity and Impact on Human Health: Overview
- Cranberry Polyphenols and Prevention against Urinary Tract Infections: Relevant Considerations
- Why d-Mannose May Be as Efficient as Antibiotics in the Treatment of Acute Uncomplicated Lower Urinary Tract Infections—Preliminary Considerations and Conclusions from a Non-Interventional Study
- Role of D-mannose in urinary tract infections – a narrative review
- Evaluation of anti-urolithiatic and diuretic activities of watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) using in vivo and in vitro experiments
- Medicinal Values of Watermelon (Citrullus Lanatus)
- A Review of the Antioxidant Activity of Celery
- Antibacterial Activity of Medicinal Plants against Uropathogenic Escherichia coli
- Urinary Tract Infections Caused by Uropathogenic Escherichia coli: Mechanisms of Infection and Treatment Options
- Urinary Microbiome: Yin and Yang of the Urinary Tract
- Emerging Role of Microbiome in the Prevention of Urinary Tract Infections in Children