As many of you know from firsthand experience, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are high on most people’s list of things to avoid. And yet, as I explained to my patient, Sarah, the standard “antibiotics for everyone” treatment only makes matters worse. By the time Sarah left my office, she was ready to take on her recurrent UTIs with a whole new battle plan. Here’s the short version of what I told her .
How UTIs Happen
The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, bladder, urethra, ureters, and penis (in men). (Although UTIs are much more common in women, men do suffer from them, too.) These organs filter and remove waste from the body in the form of urine. Most UTIs are located in the bladder or the urethra, the tube connecting the bladder and genitals, but the infection can spread to the kidneys and cause serious health problems.
The vast majority — 85 percent or more — of UTIs are caused by E. coli (Escherichia coli), a bacterium that lives in the intestines. As long as the E. coli stays in the intestines, all’s well. But when the bacterium gains access to the urinary tract, problems begin. This could be caused by an infected prostate, accidental contamination from a bowel movement, or sexual activity.
And when that happens, look out! Suddenly, urination becomes an urgent issue, sometimes involving pain, burning sensations, blood in the urine, and a host of other discomforts. In fact, one of the most uncomfortable symptoms of a UTI is the constant feeling that you need to urinate — even though you just did!
The Awful Truth About Antibiotics
Antibiotics are standard treatment for UTIs. Although they have saved millions of lives, antibiotics must be used appropriately — and sparingly. The danger in using them for UTIs is twofold. One, they’re not necessary, because there are excellent nonantibiotic UTI remedies available. Two, they tend to make the situation worse in the long run. Antibiotics kill off both the bad and the “good” bacteria, the ones we need to stay healthy and avoid future UTIs and yeast infections. In fact, a recent study found that women who used vaginal probiotic (good bacteria) suppositories had fewer UTIs than women who used a placebo, or fake probiotic. Clearly, good bacteria are our friends, and we need to do everything we can to keep them happy.
A Berry Good Remedy
If you have an ongoing problem with UTIs, you’ve probably tried cranberry juice as a remedy or preventive measure. Cranberries and cranberry juice contain substances that prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder lining. The only trick is that it’s best to use unsweetened cranberries or cranberry juice, and those are both extremely tart. Fortunately, you need to drink only four to ten ounces of cranberry juice daily. Try adding a few drops of the no-calorie herbal sweetener, stevia. Cranberry supplements are another option. I recommend a dose of 500 mg twice daily.
D-Mannose Does the Trick
In earlier newsletters, I’ve recommended watching out for hidden sugars, which can be recognized by names ending in “-ose.” Well, here’s one form of sugar that contradicts the advice — D-Mannose. This simple sugar occurs naturally in certain plants, including cranberries. Our bodies can use small amounts of D-Mannose, but most of it is eliminated in the urine. As D-Mannose makes its trip through the bladder, it connects with substances that shouldn’t be there, like infection-causing bacteria (in this case, E. coli), and sweeps them away from the bladder lining.
Individuals who suffer from recurrent UTIs can take a daily dose of one teaspoon of D-Mannose for prevention. If you feel a UTI coming on, it’s fine to increase the dosage to one teaspoon every few hours, which should provide speedy relief. Simply mix the D-Mannose powder in water and drink. If you’re concerned about blood-sugar levels, you’ll be happy to hear that the body consumes very small amounts of D-Mannose, so using it as a supplement won’t raise blood-sugar levels.
One caution: If you use D-Mannose and/or cranberry juice for several days and the UTI symptoms don’t go away, I recommend seeing your physician to determine if the infection could be caused by something other than bacteria.
Foods That Fight UTIs
If you’re eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) of fast and prepared foods, then upgrading your diet could prevent recurrent UTIs. The SAD overload of sugar, refined grains, and bad fats sets the stage for acidosis, an unhealthy imbalance in the body’s pH levels. Long-term acidosis can cause inflammation of the kidneys, a factor that could play a role in UTIs.
To correct acidosis, try consuming more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Calcium (1,000 to 1,200 mg daily), magnesium (400 to 600 mg daily), and products designed specifically for pH balancing are some of my top recommendations. This is especially important for UTI sufferers, since cranberries are one of the few acidic fruits. That means that cranberry intake needs to be balanced with more alkaline foods, at least until the UTI is gone.
Finally, don’t forget to drink plenty of fresh, filtered water to help flush the bacteria from your urinary tract. You might want to try adding 1/2 cup unsweetened cranberry juice to 32 ounces of water. Sipping “cranwater” throughout the day can provide a steady supply of bacteria-fighting substances to speed recovery. Or add a wedge of lemon or lime to help correct your pH and balance acid overload.
The vast majority of my patients with UTIs have found relief without antibiotics by using the recommendations above. If you or someone you know is prone to these infections, it could be the body’s way of telling you that it’s time to switch to a healthier diet. Sarah, who was plagued by one UTI after another, found that swapping fast food for the salad bar, and trading bacon and egg breakfasts for fruit smoothies eliminated UTIs completely.
“If I feel even the slightest little twinge of an infection, I take D-Mannose and start the cranberry juice,” she explained. “I’m surprised at how easy it is to deal with these once you have the right tools.”