Updated: Oct 28
I hardly know any woman in my age who has not had urinary tract infection (UTI) in their life. Many of us end up having them on a frequent basis. Having been there myself, I want to share my learnings over the years and what I have learnt from functional medicine doctors and other health practitioners around UTIs. I hope the below helps women to consider different ways for healing from UTIs or at least have conversation with their doctor to talk about different solutions.
Types of UTIs
There are different types of UTI: urethritis and cystitis. Urethritis is an infection in the urethra, which can cause nausea, vomiting, pain in the upper back and side, shaking and chills, high fever. Both bacteria like E.coli and viruses can cause urethritis.
Cystitis is a bladder infection, which is a lower urinary tract infection. You may experience discomfort in your lower stomach, pelvic pain, blood in urine, painful and frequent urination. Bladder infection occurs when the bacteria is present in urine.
Since your organs are all connected, bacteria can also travel up and affect the kidneys. You may experience burning sensation when urinating and discharge.
What are the causes of UTIs
There are several factors that increase the risk of developing UTIs. Having the knowhow what causes it, can help to prevent them in the future.
Why do women get UTIs more frequently than men? Women have much shorter urethra than men, therefore the bacteria can end up in the urinary tract and blood. 90% of the infections related to bladder, kidneys, urethra are related to E. coli bacteria, which lives normally harmlessly in our intestines, both in humans and animals. The problem is when the bacteria gets from the bowels into the urinary tract.
Birth control pills (because how oestrogen affects the pH) and antibiotics taken in life shift the urinary pH and the intestinal pH, which has a big impact on urinary tract and bladder, allowing the bacteria more easily to grow.
Sexual intercourse and spermicidal contraceptives. Sexual activity can move bacteria from vaginal cavity into the urethral opening. After intercourse most women have a significant number of bacteria in their urine and though body tries to get rid of the bacteria via urine, some of the bacteria may remain and cause infection. Spermicides and condoms may irritate the skin and increase the growth of bacteria in surrounding tissues.
Catheters- when you need to have a catheter placed, it can develop biofilm on catheter allowing for bacteria to develop and cause an infection
Pregnant women are more prone to having UTIs- often women develop their first UTI during their pregnancy because of the hormonal changes and the shifts in the position of the urinary tract
Having a suppressed immune system puts you at higher risk developing UTI, because your body is not able to fight off the bacteria that well
People with diabetes, where body's ability to control blood sugar is impaired, also increases the risks for developing UTIs
What are the symptoms of UTI?
They can be extremely uncomfortable and may include:
pressure or burning sensation in the bladder
a need to urinate more frequently
fatigue and weakness
urine that's cloudy or appears bright pink or red
How is UTI diagnosed?
You can easily do a home test with urinary test strips, where you can see elevated nitrites and leukocytes with UTI.
Sometimes, especially if you have had reoccurring UTIs, your doctor might order a urine test, where the lab actually analysis the different bacteria in your urine and also see the severity of the bladder infection.
Treatment of UTIs
Conventional treatment for UTIs
Unfortunately, the most common treatment for UTIs is antibiotics. In Estonia, where I live, doctors I have been to also recommend to drink uva ursi tea, take d-mannose, drink more water or recommend some other over the counter supplements, like Soluro Duo. But often women end up being prescribed antibiotics. The down-side of antibiotics is that, it might help you in the short-term, but the more frequently you have UTIs, the harder it is to have the infection cured with antibiotics and often you are being prescribed different antibiotics as the one that you took before, might not work. And over time you can start to experience antibiotics resistance, which means the bacteria (E.coli, the primary bacteria responsible for the UTIs), is able to defeat the drug designed to kill them.
Every time you go on antibiotics, you damage your gut microbiome (reducing the good flora in your intestinal tract), your mitochondria (your body's cells powerhouses) and the microbiota in your vaginal cavity. Antibiotics can also cause yeast infections as when good bacteria is wiped out, it's harder to keep the yeast under control. So then doctor might prescribe you anti-fungal after an antibiotic. And you end up on this reoccurring UTI rollercoaster ride.
How to treat UTIs naturally?
There are several home remedies for UTIs you can try to stop the invasion of bacteria becoming a reoccurring problem and things you can do to avoid UTIs in the first place.
I am going to list here different things you can try. And based on experience, I would really recommend you try the natural remedies first before deciding together with the doctor whether you need antibiotics. Sometimes the infection is so severe, that going on a course of antibiotics is necessary, but definitely worth to try other non-invasive remedies first. And if you have gut issues as well and you are aware of your diet not being clean, where you eat sugary foods, refined carbohydrates, processed foods on a regular basis- it's best to work together with a functional doctor, nutritionist, health coach to improve with you diet and lifestyle.
Drinking adequate amount of water, herbal tea, which helps to flush the bacteria out from your body
Urinating often and when the urge rises
Urinating after sexual intercourse
Wiping properly from front to back when going to toilet- this is a good tip to teach to young girls from an early age
Wear loose-fitting clothes, allowing the area around urethra to stay dry (tight jeans, nylon underwear can be problematic. Also don't use perfumed pantyliners if using any)
Avoid using spermicides and use lubricated condoms that don't contain spermicides
Using vaginal probiotics to improve the microflora and avoiding bubble baths and irritating soaps in the genital area.
Drinking uva ursi tea or taking uva ursi tincture
Drinking parsley tea
Eating garlic as it's antimicromial and anti-inflammatory
Consuming ginger in your drink or food
Drinking non-sweetened pure cranberry juice, diluted with water
Taking Echinacea or Pau D'arco to improve the immune system
Eating regularly foods high in vitamin C or taking Vitamin C supplement (makes urine more acidic)
Making sure you avoid sugary processed foods and drinks, high carbs in your diet, alcohol
Avoid getting cold on your feet, lower back and stomach area
Always discuss the birth control options with your gynaecologist, as birth control pills which are often prescribed can cause issues and imbalances in the gut, causing bloating, diarrhoea, constipation etc.
Using antibacterial essential oils diluted with carrier oil, topically- oregano, clove, myrrh, rosemary, basil
Foods that help healing from UTIs- bone-broth, chicken, cranberries, wild-caught salmon, coconut, blueberries, dark leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, celery, radishes, pumpkin, parsley, beans, lentils, seaweed, rice etc.
Gut connection with UTIs
If you have bacteria or yeast imbalances in the urinary tract or vaginal tract, you probably have issues in the digestive tract. You might want to look deeper into intestinal tract, if you have any underlying issues there. By fixing the gut, you help to improve the immune system in the vaginal area as well. Best is to find a functional medicine doctor in your area, who can help to dial in deeper into the underlying causes of the UTI, by also doing stool test, organic acid test etc.
Uncomplicated UTIs usually resolves within days, especially if you follow the above recommendations. However, if you are experiencing severe symptoms or have reoccurring UTI, it's best to talk to your healthcare provider.
If you need help and guidance on how to improve your diet and lifestyle to lower your risks for developing UTIs, don't hesitate to reach out and book a free health history session with me through my website booking link or via e-mail email@example.com.