There are times when it feels like biology is destiny. And when it comes to women and urinary tract infections (UTI), there's some truth to that age-old observation. A woman's chance of contracting at least one UTI over her lifetime is close to 50%; once you've had a UTI, you know exactly what it is, how unpleasant and painful it can be and you'll do whatever you can to prevent another occurrence.
Here's an overview of the urinary system, how it flushes out waste, and how to help prevent infections.
The kidneys sit just below your rib cage on either side of the spine. They play a major role in the body's detox process, helping flush waste from the body through urination. Every day, the kidneys draw out about 1-2 quarts of urine for every 120-150 quarts of blood.
The ureters are thin muscular tubes on each side of your bladder that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
Located in the pelvic region, the bladder is a hollow, muscular organ that expands as it fills with urine. Once full, it sends a signal to the brain, and we sense it's time to urinate. It can hold up to two cups of urine. However, every person is different in terms of how often they produce and hold urine and how frequently they urinate.
During urination, the bladder empties through the urethra, located at the bottom of the bladder. The muscles of the pelvic region, the bladder muscles, and the urethra work together like a dam to hold urine between trips to the restroom.
When bacteria travel up the urethra into the bladder, this may cause a urinary tract infection. The most common type of bacteria found in UTIs is the E. coli bacteria. If the infection spreads to the kidneys and ureters this can cause an upper UTI or pyelonephritis; left untreated it can affect other body systems and lead to serious health problems.
TIPS FOR MAINTAINING A HEALTHY URINARY TRACT
Maintain healthy flora in the body. Proper balance of flora is not only important for GI function but for other systems too, such as the urinary system. Consider adding fermented foods to your diet and/or taking a probiotic supplement. There are specific probiotic strains for the UT system. Check with your practitioner about the one best suited to your concerns.
Stay Hydrated. Fluid intake, especially water, is vital to the health of the urinary tract. Water helps flush bacteria and other waste products from your body. The typical recommendation is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water (e.g., body weight = 140 lbs., water intake = 70 oz. daily). Check with your doctor on the proper amount for you. Adding organic unsweetened cranberry juice to your water always helps to support the UT system.
Detox your Diet. You may not think of sugar, caffeine, nicotine, or packaged food as toxic, but they have no nutritive value. Regular use of these items stresses the systems designed to cleanse and preserve the integrity of your health.
Go Orange. Get your Vitamin C. Eating foods high in vitamin C has been shown to help promote urinary tract health and prevent UTI.
Treat any underlying infections. Candida likes to grow in dark moist places like your UT system as well as your gut. Oftentimes, recurrent UTIs are caused by an underlying chronic Candida infection.
We all know that berries are good for us. But did you know that dark berries can have as much as 50% more antioxidants compared to their lighter colored cousins?
Antioxidants, which includes vitamin C, help protect against free radicals (scavenger molecules that damage healthy cells in your body). Eating berries can lower risk for certain cancers, protect urinary tract health, and promote healthy aging.
Blueberry & Cranberry, both the berry and the juice, help reduce inflammation and are beneficial for preventing and treating recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections. They contain a powerful antioxidant (proanthocyanidin, or PAC) and D-mannose which can prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract. Blueberry is easier to prepare and digest compared to cranberry. For people who don't like or can't digest cranberries, a PAC or D-mannose supplement may be a better option.
Boysenberry is a hybrid of blackberry, loganberry and raspberry. It's juicy and sweet with a bit of tang and contains vitamins C and K, folate, and manganese, which play an important role in immunity, anti-inflammatory response, digestive and cardiovascular health.
Elderberry, an immunity-boosting berry, is packed with vitamins C, A, B6 and iron and potassium. It's on the tart side, but can be sweetened with organic honey and is commonly used to make teas and jam. The flavonoids in elderberry compare to Tamiflu, an anti-influenza medication.
Try a variety of the dark berries; from bitter to tart to sweet, there's a berry for everybody!
RECIPE: BERRY-FENNEL-GINGER HERBAL TEA
Infused with dark berries, this herbal tea provides an abundance of antioxidants. A spicy hint of ginger, along with tummy-taming fennel, supports digestion. It's also pretty in a clear glass tea mug. Use organic ingredients.
1 oz dried blueberries
1 oz dried bilberries
1 oz dried elderberry
1 oz dried blackberries
1 oz fennel seed
1 tbsp dried ginger root
Optional sweeteners: raw honey, stevia leaf, coconut sugar
Dried berries can be purchased from Nuts.com
Combine Ingredients and mix all ingredients together. To prepare a cup of tea, use 1 tbsp of mix to 10 oz boiling water. Cover and let steep for 10 min. Strain, add optional sweetener and drink. Can be enjoyed warm or as an iced beverage. Remaining mix can be stored up to six months in a dry, airtight container.
D-MANNOSE FOR CHRONIC URINARY TRACT INFECTIONS
Recurrent UTI are common among 20% of women, with many women experiencing three or more infections a year. The typical treatment is antibiotics, but long-term use increases the likelihood that those medicines won't work against future infections. Recurrent antibiotic use also causes gut dysbiosis.
A natural and effective option is a supplement called D-Mannose, a naturally occurring sugar found in a variety of fruits such as blueberry, apple, and cranberry. This sugar is the reason that cranberry juice is commonly recommended as a UTI treatment; it's a lot easier, however, to get the recommended dosage from a D-mannose supplement.
Here's how D-mannose works and why it's so effective: it attaches itself to E. coli, a bacteria normally found in the intestinal tract but often proliferates in places it should not be, causing infections. D-Mannose triggers the bacteria to bind to it, instead of the urinary tract, and this helps your body flush out the bacteria during urination.
Natural medicine practitioners have long been using D-mannose to treat UTI in men and women. Recent studies comparing D-Mannose to both antibiotic and placebo have shown women taking D-Mannose had a significantly lower frequency of UTI and a lower incidence of side effects compared to those taking the antibiotic.
Talk with your holistic physician before taking D-Mannose as dose differs based on frequency and duration of infection, age, and other health factors.
MAINTAIN YOUR HEALTH WITH BUCHU (Barosma betulina, Agathosma betulina)
The medicinal properties of the South African herb buchu are derived from the leaves, which have been used in tribal and modern European herbal medicine for centuries. Buchu has antiseptic properties, making it helpful for destroying bacteria. Tinctures of buchu can also have an overall tonic effect, helping to strengthen vital organs.
Among its many uses, buchu exerts a direct effect on the urinary system and is used in helping to prevent and heal conditions such as:
- bladder infection
- blood in the urine
- chronic urinary tract infection
- inflammation in the kidneys
- painful urination
- colic and painful gas in adults
Natural medicine practitioners propose that the active chemicals in buchu help to kill germs and promote flow of urine. The dried herb is most commonly used in capsule form.
Buchu must be used under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner because it can interact with other medications. Also, a person's age, their symptoms, and the stage of progression of their health condition influences how buchu is used. Buchu has not been studied for use with children and should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
SOOTHING SITZ BATH
A sitz bath is a warm, shallow bath that cleanses the exterior areas of the reproductive organs including the perineum (the space between the rectum and the vulva or scrotum) and provides soothing relief from pain, irritation, or itching.
COMMON REASONS WHY YOU MIGHT WANT TO USE A SITZ BATH
- Recent surgery (e.g., hemorrhoids)
- Recent childbirth
- Recent urinary infection, gastrointestinal illness, diarrhea
- As part of your personal preventative hygiene regimen
While taking a sitz bath doesn't require a doctor's prescription, be sure to check with your health practitioner about how soon after a medical procedure you can safely take one. Your doctor might prescribe medication to add to the sitz bath, or recommend a homeopathic preparation to create a more soothing solution for tender areas.
HOW TO TAKE A SITZ BATH
The bath can be done in your regular bathtub. Be sure to thoroughly clean the tub with an environmentally friendly (non-bleach) cleanser or a solution of vinegar and water (ask your health practitioner how to prepare).
Fill the tub with comfortably warm, not hot water.
Add medicine or doctor-recommended remedies to the water. Step into the tub. Sit for 15 to 20 minutes, with bent knees, allowing water to flow around your perineum. When you get out of the bathtub, gently pat dry with a clean cotton towel. Don't rub or scrub the perineum, as this may cause pain and irritation. Finish by rinsing the bathtub thoroughly.
You can also choose to use a sitz kit, a mini tub placed over your toilet seat. Make sure it's secure before you sit in it and the water is deep enough so the entire perineum is submerged. After 15-20 minutes, pat dry and follow the cleaning instructions that came with your kit.
OTHER OPTIONS: YONI STEAMING HERBS
You can soothe and revitalize your reproductive system with the ancient practice of yoni (vaginal) steaming. Yoni steaming is respected by healers around the globe and a wonderful opportunity to connect with your body while utilizing the wisdom of plant medicine to heal your cycle. This practice is best as a preventative measure and not during a UTI episode.
To read more about Yoni Steaming check out Soul Vibrance.