Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are generally caused by bacteria that enter the urogenital tract through the urethral opening. Our body has many defense mechanisms against these invading microbes, but sometimes they do manage to get in and multiply in the bladder, taking hold of its lining and causing inflammation. UTIs can affect any part of the urinary tract, but lower urinary tract infections are the most common.
The most common symptoms of UTI are frequent urination and a burning sensation or pain while passing urine, but they vary depending on the site and severity of the infection. Infection of the bladder referred to as cystitis is usually accompanied by discomfort or pressure in the lower abdomen and pelvic area. The urine may be bloody. The infection and the resultant inflammation can spread upwards from the urethra and the bladder to the ureters and the kidneys. Upper urinary tract infections may give you a severe backache, particularly if the infection reaches the kidneys. You may experience nausea and vomiting as well.
Some Common Causes of UTIs:
Women are more prone to recurrent urinary tract infections – blame it on the anatomy of the female urogenital system. Men also get them occasionally, especially those who have incontinence or urine flow blockage due to prostate enlargement or urinary tract stones. Sexual intercourse and intubation during medical procedures are common causes of UTIs as they tend to introduce pathogens into the track. Dehydration and low frequency of bladder emptying, as well as incomplete emptying further promote their growth and proliferation.
Whatever the cause of the UTI, it almost always brings on pain and discomfort, although the symptoms and their severity vary from person to person. Antibiotics are the first line of treatment, often prescribed along with analgesics for pain relief. However, these often precipitate undesirable side effects, not to mention the risk of the bacteria developing drug resistance, given the recurring nature of this disease. Try some of the following home remedies without antibiotics instead for relief from pain and discomfort as well as to fight the infection naturally.
1. Drink plenty of water
- Common wisdom and even doctors advise drinking more water to prevent as well as treat UTIs because it naturally increases the flow of urine and necessitates frequent voiding.
- A few bacteria and fungi may be permanent residents in and around the urogenital tract, but they rarely cause any trouble unless their populations increase. This is usually prevented by many defense mechanisms of the body, including the elimination of the microbes along with urine. But recent research shows that the beneficial effect of drinking water has more to do with certain biochemical changes in the environment, rather than physical removal of the offending organisms.
- Doctors have known for a long time that the pH of urine has a definite influence on urinary tract health, and there have been efforts to acidify or alkalinize urine with the object of treating kidney and bladder stones and UTIs. But, according to Prof. Jeffrey P. Henderson at the Washington University School of Medicine, urine closer to the pH of water is the best for fighting infections.
- On doing extensive research into this subject, he found that the activity of a protein called siderocalin produced by our immune system is the most critical in restricting the growth of bacteria. This protein is highest when the urine pH is nearly neutral.
- Drink plenty of water to produce water-like urine and give a hard time to those microbes. Dehydration, in general, stunts immune function, so, that gives you one more reason to stay well hydrated.
2. Empty your bladder frequently
- If you’re drinking sufficient amount of water, you’ll have the natural urge to empty the bladder often. However, many of us have developed a tendency to hold in the water, sometimes out of necessity. This gives pathogenic bacteria more time to multiply and invade the lining of the bladder, in addition to the tissue damage caused by highly concentrated urine. Given enough time, the bacteria can make biofilms that resist even the strongest antibiotic. Even more dangerous is the spread of the infection up to the ureters and into the kidneys.
- There are one-way flap valves in the ureters that connect the kidneys to the bladder, which normally prevent the backflow of urine. People with damaged flap valves may have a condition called vesicoureteral reflux, which makes them susceptible to kidney infections and eventual kidney damage. Holding in the urine until the bladder is too full can cause the valves to leak or fail, resulting in a similar situation. Your goal should be to void when the bladder is half full.
- When you have UTI, it’s common to have an urge to go very frequently, but the urine output may be very little and the process rather painful. However, don’t try to fight the urge and try to hold in the urine. Drink more water to increase the output, and then go as often as you can. Use pain-relieving measures to make it easier on you.
3. Take a pelvic sitz bath
- A warm pelvic sitz bath can relieve the pain and discomfort associated with UTIs. It involves sitting in a tub with water coming up to cover just the pelvic area, or upper thighs and lower abdomen as well. It is a common hydrotherapy treatment for several ailments, including local pain and cramping.
- Warm sitz bath relieves pain, but a cold bath has an anti-inflammatory effect. You can have the best of both worlds by alternating both warm and cold baths. Start with water that is as warm as is comfortable for you. Drain the tub after 5-8 minutes and fill it with cold water or move to a cold water tub for 1 minute. Repeat the procedure until the pain subsides. A simpler variation is starting with a warm sitz bath and then letting the cold water tap run on low after 3 minutes. Let the water and your body cool gradually.
4. Use hot packs
- If you don’t have the time and inclination for an elaborate sitz bath, hot packs around the lower abdomen will provide temporary relief from pain and the pressure-like sensation in the pelvic area. It can even reduce inflammation by promoting blood circulation in the area.
- Use thick towels wrung out in hot water or a hot water bag. Moist heat is more soothing and effective, but it is cumbersome unless you have a gel pack that provides moist heat. Place the hot water bag or gel pack on your lower abdomen or lie on it while resting. They usually retain the desired amount of heat for about 25-30 minutes.
- An electric heating pad will provide even warmth for a longer duration, but remember that dry heat can dry out the skin. Also, avoid using very high heat as it can cause skin burns.
5. Drink parsley tea
- Parsley tea is a well known natural UTI remedy, but the actual tea recommended by natural healers involves the urine of the person with the infection. An ounce of the patient’s first voided urine is mixed with a quart of water and gently heated. A handful of parsley leaves is added, and the tea is simmered on the lowest setting for an hour. All of the tea has to be consumed on the same day but in divided doses.
- Using the person’s urine for the brewing process is said to bestow certain immunologic benefits, but it is clearly not for everyone. Making a regular herbal tea by infusing just fresh parsley leaves in boiling water is an option you can try.
6. Drink good old cranberry juice
- Cranberry juice used to be the ‘go to’ remedy and preventive measure for UTIs for long, but many people feel it’s not as effective as it’s made out to be. The medical world says there’s no conclusive evidence to support the claims, but none of the other natural remedies have gained medical acceptance either, despite many users vouching for them. Nevertheless, some clinical studies have found that pure cranberry juice (not the sweetened drink spiked with chemicals) indeed helps fight UTIs, although it may cause intestinal and bladder irritation in some people, especially when taken in large amounts.
- Going back to Prof. Henderson’s research, his team analyzed thousands of substances found in urine samples and found that certain molecules, referred to as aromatics, that come from food negatively affect the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Their main mode of action seemed to be binding with iron and depriving these microbes of this essential mineral. Not surprisingly, metabolites of cranberry juice were also there among the several beneficial aromatic compounds identified.
- The researchers felt that the juice may be more effective if measures are taken to reduce urine acidity while drinking it, but that there might be individual variations. In other words, just try it and find out if it works for you.
7. Let garlic fight off the infection
- Garlic’s antibacterial property is well known, but the challenge is to get the garlic compounds into the urinary bladder. The antimicrobial action is attributed to Allicin, a sulfur compound formed when the garlic cloves are crushed. If you ingest a sufficient amount of garlic, you will produce garlic-smelling urine and even sweat. It’s unpleasant, no doubt, but it’s highly effective and immensely popular as a UTI remedy. The typical smell of garlic comes from allicin, so there’s no point in trying to deodorize garlic.
- You can mash up 3-5 cloves of garlic and mix it with butter or vinegar to make your garlic butter or salad dressing. If you don’t much care for the taste or garlic breath, swallow 5-6 smaller garlic cloves like a pill or cut up 2-3 larger ones and take them 2-3 times a day.
8. Make marshmallow root tea
- Marshmallow root tea has a long history of being used for treating kidney stones as well as urinary tract infections. This mucilaginous drink has a long list of benefits; it can soothe the inflamed urinary tract lining; it reduces abdominal pain as well as pain during urination; it increases urine production; it modifies the pH of the urine and even clears up bloody urine. But more importantly, marshmallow tea is considered safe for babies and in pregnancy, which is a blessing because UTIs are all too common during pregnancy, and we’d want to avoid antibiotics during this.
- To make the marshmallow root infusion, place crushed marshmallow root in a bowl and add lukewarm water in 1:4 ratio. Keep aside for 4-5 hours or overnight. Strain the thick, slimy tea and drink it several times a day.
9. Enjoy coriander tea
- This age-old remedy for urinary tract infections is an essential curry ingredient. Whole dried coriander seeds are used to brew a cooling tea that removes ‘heat’ from the body. According to Indian Ayurvedic traditions, it is the condition of the body that invites diseases, rather than the virulence of pathogens. Imbalances in the body occur due to changes in the environment as well as the foods we eat. Similarly, certain foods can heal diseases, especially potent herbs that contain potent phytochemicals.
- Add a tablespoon of crushed coriander seeds to your regular teapot. The slightly sweet and spicy flavor of coriander seeds goes well with both regular tea and green tea. In case you hate the culinary herb cilantro, or coriander leaves, the dried seeds or the tea doesn’t taste anything like the green stuff.
- If you don’t have a tea habit, make an infusion of the seeds in hot water. Just coarsely crush 2-3 Tbsp coriander seeds and place in a bowl. Fill it with 3 cups of boiling water; cover with a lid and keep for at least 2-3 hours. You can also allow it to steep overnight. Drink the tea hot or cold throughout the day. A little rock sugar is traditionally used to sweeten the tea.
10. Drink coconut water & coconut milk
- Coconut water is the nearly colorless liquid inside coconuts, and coconut milk is the white milk obtained from the crushed flesh of mature coconuts. Both are Indian natural remedies for UTIs by their ‘cooling’ effect on the body. But laboratory tests pin it on monolaurin, the wonder substance in coconut oil that has wide-ranging antimicrobial action. The best thing about it is its excellent safety profile. Since it is also found in human breast milk, monolaurin and its commercial forms such as Lauricidin are considered safe for babies and people of all ages.
- Coconut water from tender coconuts is a refreshingly light drink, but it is rich in electrolytes and has a chemical composition similar to blood plasma. Drinking the water from 2-3 tender coconuts a day can get rid of the infection in just a few days.
- Drink coconut milk in smaller quantities because its high oil content produces a laxative effect. Lactose intolerant can take this nourishing milk as a dairy substitute. Those with nut allergies need not worry because coconut is not a nut. One to two tablespoons of coconut cream or coconut oil can provide similar benefits.
11. Try uva ursi and D-Mannose
- These natural plant products can help fight UTIs when taken in prescribed doses. Uva ursi or bearberry leaf is a Native American herbal remedy for UTIs that was very much in currency before antibiotics took over. The herbal extract is prepared from the leaves of Arctostaphylos uva ursi growing in alpine regions, and it is available as capsules and tincture.
- Research into the composition of the herbal extract has identified the glycoside arbutin and its derivative hydroquinone as the main bioactive compounds, which, along with plant tannins, help reduce inflammation and fight the infection.
- Uva ursi has become increasingly popular because of its effectiveness in resolving recurring urinary bladder infections, but the downside is that it contains hydroquinone, which is toxic. This compound is associated with liver damage when used long-term, so uva ursi use should be limited to 4-5 days. Start using it as soon as the first signs of infection appear. Since this medicine works best with alkaline urine, include alkalizing foods while taking it. Also, take a potassium supplement, as the strong diuretic effect of the herb may cause the depletion of this mineral.
- D-Mannose is a natural sugar occurring in cranberries and blueberries. It is this substance in cranberries that prevents bacteria from latching on to the bladder walls. This sugar molecule does not get metabolized like other sugars, so it is excreted in the urine. It gets attached to the bacteria in the bladder, E.coli, in particular, causing them to stick to one another and then get eliminated through urine.
- Available as capsules and in powder form, D-Mannose is regarded as safe for frequent and prolonged use. People of all ages can take it, for not only treating UTIs but as a preventive measure. The standard adult dose is 500mg 2-3 times a day, and it can be taken until the infection completely clears up.
12. Eat Greek yogurt & other probiotic foods
- Greek yogurt contains active populations of ‘good bacteria’ such as Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus which ferments the milk. It is called a probiotic food because these bacteria can contribute to the intestinal flora, which is involved in the digestion of complex substances, production of B-complex vitamins and healthy immune function.
- Yogurt is recommended for fighting gastrointestinal problems and vaginal yeast infections that usually result from overuse of antibiotics. But increasing evidence of its benefit in treating UTIs has prompted the University of Maryland Medical Center to advise people who suffer from recurrent UTIs to eat yogurt, especially cultures containing L.acidophilus.
- Kefir, sauerkraut, and miso are some of the popular probiotics. One direct benefit of these foods comes from the good bacteria restoring the microbial balance that recurring UTIs and frequent use of antibiotics may have destroyed. Probiotic bacteria may indirectly help fight UTIs by strengthening the immune system. They may also help produce the aromatic metabolites that prevent bacterial growth in urine.